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This was a secret war, whose battles 
were lost or won unknown to the pub- 
lic. .,, No such warfare had ever been 
waged by mortal men, 

World War,V*Ul 




With a foreword by 

With 23 plates in half-tone 
and an endpaper map in colour 




who bore so patiently with the long months 

of research before this book could be written 

and to 


in grateful memory of the Mediterranean 

years which followed my service with the 

'Wheezers and Dodgers 1 

First published 195? by 




EDKING back over the years to the exploits of the Department of 
Miscellaneous Weapon Development in the Admiralty, I think 
it is the personalities of the people concerned that now interest 
me most. What sort of people were they who did the things described 
so excellently in this book? If any future war should come and make 
a similar department necessary again, what sort of people should the 
Admiralty seek to staff it? 

Well, first of all, I do not think that such a department is likely to 
be created again in just that form in any future war. It was the child 
of Goodeve, and it was amazingly lucky for the Admiralty that 
Goodcve happened to fall into their lap at the commencement of the 
War. He was a scientist of some repute, though only thirty-five years 
old in 1939, but he was much more than that. He was born a 
Canadian, and visits to the United States in his youth had infected 
him with something of the vigour of their scientific and commercial 
enterprise; although a scientist he thought like an American project 
engineer, with a quick, instinctive flair for picking out of half a dozen 
schemes the one which could be driven through to practical success 
in terms of hardware. His travels between Canada, the United States, 
and England had given him a breadth of outlook denied to those 
who are constrained to spend their lives in one country, and he had 
immense vigour. In addition, he was passionately devoted to the 
Navy. From early youth his reserve service in the Navy had been 
practically his only recreation, his one hobby. Apart from his work 
and the Navy, his only relaxation lay in ice-skating. When the War 
came it must have been a secret joy to him; it meant that he could 
give his whole life to the Navy instead of just his holidays. The 
Admiralty would be lucky indeed if any such man fell into their 
hands at the right time in any future war. 

Without a Goodeve the department could never have come into 
being. No doubt in any future war the Admiralty could make as wise 


a choice of a captain to command such an unusual department as 
they did when they appointed G. O. C. Davies. He was a burly R.N. 
captain with a strong sense of humour who intended to retire from 
the Navy anyway at the conclusion of the War, having some private 
means. He was therefore quite prepared to blot his copybook and to 
incur the disapproval of his seniors if by doing so he could advance 
the War effort, a fitting commander for this crowd of turbulent 
civilians in uniform who had no future in the Service either. Two or 
three times a week an R.N.V.R. lieutenant accustomed to civilian 
ways of doing things would return from a visit to a firm and plunge 
Captain Davies straight into a procedural mess. "They said they 
thought it would cost about three thousand pounds, sir, so I told 
them to go right ahead. I said we'd let them have a letter by the end 
of the week. They've put fifteen men on to it already. They're really 
very keen." To his eternal credit Captain Davies would laugh 
heartily before he plunged into the appalling paper-work involved in 
Admiralty contracts that had been started off in so unauthorized a 

If any one quality was a common requirement for the officers in 
this unusual department I would say it was imagination the 
imagination to look forward and to visualize what might happen. 
When the Petroleum Warfare Department set up a flame barrage to 
prevent invading boats from landing upon beaches that consisted of 
a line of oil discharged from pipes under the sea, igniting on the 
surface to make a wall of fire twenty feet high and twenty feet wide 
pardld to the beach, it appeared to be an impregnable defence. It 
needed imagination for somebody to say, "I don't believe that thing's 
much good after all. I think the bow wave of the boat would push 
the oil aside. I don't think you'd get burnt up. Let's get a boat and 
try it." We did, we weren't, it did, and it wasn't. This quality of 
imagination came into everything we touched; without it little could 
have been created. 

Next to imagination I would say that the most useful officers were 
those who had a knowledge of some industry. The objective in prac- 
tically every case was to produce a piece of hardware which would 
be of service to the fighting man, and the detailed design and manu- 
facture had to be carried out by some firm. Knowledge of one sector 
of industry and personal acquaintance with the people in it were 
invaluable to an officer in this department, imposing a handicap 
upon the younger officers straight from a university or coUege that 
had to be countered by the greater energy of their youth. Technical 
journalists, such as that valiant little man Menhinick, were good 
members of the department. Their work in peace-time brought them 
into contact with civilian firms, they were accustomed to taking a 


bird's-eye view of an industry, and they could express themselves 
clearly and concisely. 

The Law played a surprisingly effective part in the activities of 
D.M.W.D. Terrell and Lochner were both barristers, though the 
latter had 'an engineering background, and these were two of the 
most successful officers in the department. Perhaps the ability to 
analyse and check evidence and to extract the truth from several 
conflicting stories may make it easy for a banister quickly to gain a 
knowledge of an industry or a technique, added to the feature of a 
first-class mind. However that may be, experience has shown that the 
legal mind can be most effective in the activities we carried on; it 
may be that in Patent law there lay some technical and analytical 
resources that we might have used but didn't. 

Pure scientists, such as Guggenheim, Penney, and Purcell, were 
invaluable to the department, but I think we may have had too many 
physical chemists straight from college. These men did first-class 
work, but not as physical chemists; they were very keen and very 
brave in trials, but they learned their job as they went along, and so 
made many mistakes that could have been avoided with more engin- 
eering knowledge. However, engineers are very scarce in time of war; 
we raked in every one that we could lay our hands on, .and in that 
time of man-power shortage Goodeve was no doubt correct to bring 
in anybody technical, in any field, that he could get hold of. 

Lastly we come to the men with no apparent qualifications at all 
for work on the design of weapons. Some of these were ineffective on 
creative work and drifted off to other work in other spheres of the 
Navy. But othera, and there were quite a number of them, revealed 
a dormant aptitude for work on weapons to Goodeve at an inter- 
view; he had a flair for detecting this quality. Lane, the expert on 
tree culture, was to be the man who succoured and encouraged B. N. 
Wallis in his frustration, and brought him to the department and 
organized the trials of the weapon which resulted in the breaching 
of the Mohne Dam. It was Brinsmead, who made furniture in peace- 
time, who became our expert on shaped charges; it was Eades, the 
young auctioneer, who crowned his work on the development of 
rocket weapons with the exploitation of the rocket grapnel, and so 
lost his life in the invasion. And there were many others. 

When I was first sent from H.M.S. King Alfred to be interviewed 
by Goodeve in the Admiralty I was furious. The War seemed to me, 
in June of 1940, to be desperately serious, and England in imminent 
peril of invasion. I had just abandoned technical experiment and 
research on gliding torpedoes to go and fight, as this book tells. Now 
I was threatened with a posting to a new experimental department, 
the king of which was interviewing me. I was not reassured. The man 


was young, but he had snow-white hair, vry blue eyes, and a 
nervous, restless manner. I knew nothing of hkn at that time. Since 
he was interviewing me my opportunities for interviewing him were 
limited, but in my time I have met many cranks, and this man bore 
all the external hallmarks. Here, I thought, was a crazy inventor who 
had sucked in the simple admirals to the point when they were 
allowing him to set up a staff to mess about with graph paper and 
slide rules instead of fighting the Germans. If I got involved in this, 
I thought, I should be very safe, but other men would win or lose the 
war within the next three months. If I didn't, if within the three days 
of joining the Navy I refused point-blank to do what the Navy 
wanted me to do, I might well find myself cashiered before I got my 

~ This book shows how very, very wrong I was in every single par- 


writing of this story of D.M.W.D., the Admiralty depart- 
ment described in Chapter i, had its genesis in an article en- 
titled "Highly Explosive" which I contributed to The Sunday 
Times in 1953. Not ^^ I began the detailed research for this book 
did I realize, however, the problems of giving shape and form to a 
record of such varied endeavour while attempting at the same time 
to preserve some chronological sequence. 

Work on many of D.M.WJD.'s projects overlapped by consider- 
able maigins, and I have therefore aimed to introduce each new 
enterprise at the point of its greatest significance to the war effort. 

While initiating ideas of their own, D.M.W.D. also helped to 
develop many weapons and devices for which they were not them- 
selves responsible at the outset. In many instances, too, other Admir- 
alty departments and individuals continued to contribute valuably 
and constantly to every phase of evolution from the drawing-board 
to the final production. I stress this fact because, inevitably, the story 
of any one particular unit engaged in such a field as research and 
development cannot convey an adequate impression of the part 
played by other organizations working in parallel. 

D.M.WJX had many successes and many failures. But it should 
be emphasized that the latter were often failures only in the sense 
that the swift march of war removed the need for some strange and 
resourceful invention before its development was fully completed. 

Although I have had ^generous co-operation from many quarters, 
the views expressed in the pages which follow are entirely my own. 
I have not sought to produce an 'official history/ but rather to give a 
picture of certain facets in the life of a unique organization now no 
longer in existence. At the same time every attempt has been made 
to ensure accuracy of fact, and my grateful thanks are due, first of 
all, to the many former members of D.M.W.D. too numerous to 
mention individually who submitted themselves to cross-examina- 
tion at all hours of the day and night. Without their ungrudging help 
this book could not have been written. 

Captain A. W. Clarke, C.B.E., D.S.O., R.N.(ret), Chief of Naval 
Information, and Mr H. G. O. Cross, M.B.E., his deputy at the 
Admiralty, readily placed facilities at my disposal for inspecting 
material in the Admiralty archives. Rear-Admiral R, M. Bellairs, 


C.B., C.M.G., gave me the freedom of the Admiralty's Historical 
Section, and Mr G. H. Hurford, F.R.Hist.S., and Commander 
F. Barley, R.N. V.R., of his staff, went to much trouble to check count- 
less details concerning the naval plans for the assault on Normandy. 

From many sources unconnected with D.M.W.D. I have received 
valuable assistance and advice, and I should like to express my grati- 
tude to Admiral Sir William Tennant, K.C.B., C.B.E., M.V.O., who 
as Flag Officer, Mulberry and Pluto, played a leading part in the 
events described in the closing stages of this book; Admiral of the 
Fleet Lord Fraser of North Cape, G.C.B., K.B.E., a former First Sea 
Lord, and Controller of the Navy when D.M.W.D. was formed; 
Admiral Sir Harold Burrough, G.C.B., K.B.E., D.S.O.; Admiral 
Sir Alexander Madden, K.C.B., C.B.E.; Marshal of the Royal Air 
Force Sir John Slessor, G.C.B., D.S.O., M.C.; Sir Steuart Mitchell, 
K.B.E., C.B., Controller of Guided Weapons and Electronics at the 
Ministry of Supply; Major-General Sir Millis Jefferis, K.B.E., M.C.; 
Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett, C.B., D.S.O., M.P.; Surgeon 
Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Ingleby Mackenzie, K.B.E., C.B., 
M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P.; Sir Arthur Whitaker, K.C.B.; Commander 
Norman Holbrook, V.C., R.N.(ret.); Mr E. G. Buhrle, head of the 
Werkzeugmaschinenfabrik Oerlikon of Zurich; Captain Basil Jones, 
D.S.O., D.S.C., R.N.(ret.); Mr A. T. Holman, O.B.E., chairman of 
Holman Brothers, Camborne; Mr Antoine Gazda, head of the 
engineering oiganization at Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A., 
which bears his name; Mr R. E. Stubington, managing director of 
the Merryweather Engineering Works, Greenwich; Lieutenant- 
Colonel L. V. S. Blacker, O.B.E.; Commander Peter du Cane, 
O.B.E., R.N.(ret.); Lieutenant-Commander Peter Scott, C.B.E., 
D.S.C., R.N.V.R.; Mr J. M. Waldram, of the General Electric 
Company's Research Staff; Mrs Ronald Hamilton; Commander 
J. S. Mulock, O.B.E., R.N.V.R.; Mr J. S. Herbert, M.A.; Mr C. R. 
Thompson, of the Schermuly Pistol Rocket Apparatus, Ltd; and 
Mr R.J.S. Crowe. 

Mr^ Francis Marshall has kindly allowed me to reproduce his 
diverting drawing of Mulberry Harbour, now in the possession of 
Admiral Tennant; and the illustration for the menu card of 
D.M.W.D/S first reunion dinner another engaging flight of fancy 
is the work of Mr Russell Brockbank, of Punch. In respect of Chap- 
ters 1 1 and 20 1 am indebted to Kenisley Newspapers for permission 
to use material published in The Sunday Times and other journals 
under their control. 


September 1956 


PART I: The Enemy in the Sky 












PART II: The Enemy under the Waters 






1 6. THE TOYSHOP 177 

PART III: Keys to the Fortress 










INDEX 293 



P.A.G. Rockets are fired at the Attackers as German Aircraft 
carry out a Low-level Raid on an East Coast Convoy frontispiece 

The Acoustic Device developed by Lieutenant-Commander Nevil 
Shute Norway, R.ft. V.R., to give Warning of Approaching 
Aircraft 20 

The World War I Tank restored to Active Service by Alec 

Menhinick 20 

Plastic Armour Mark III, known as P.P.P. (Plastic Protective 

Plating), fitted to the Bridge of a Merchant Aircraft-carrier 2 x 

A Landing-craft used in the Dieppe Raid in 1942 after the 

Explosion of a Mortar Bomb 2 1 

Hints on the Harvey Projector 32 

A Harvey Projector mounted on a Coastal-gun Site 32 

Commander Sir Charles Goodeve, O.B.E., F.RJS., R.N.V.R. 33 

Lieutenant-Commander L. H. M. Lane, R.N.V.R. 48 

Admiral of the Fleet Sir James Somerville on the Bridge of his 
Flagship 48 

The Holman Projector ready for Trials on the Moor at Porth- 
towan 49 

A Cornwall County Council Steamroller is brought to the Moor 
to aid Trials of the First Steam Projector 49 

Antoine Gazda firing the Oerlikon Gun on the Proving Ground 

atWakefidd,U.SA 64 

Gazda with Admiral of the Fleet Earl Mountbatten of Burma 64 

Commander F. D. Richardson, R.N. V.R. 65 

Lieutenant C. F. Tolman, R.N.V.R., testing the F.B.B. Balloon 
in the Refrigerating Chamber at West Mailing 65 

A Swordfish Aircraft lands on the Lily Floating Airfield 

assembled off Lamlash, Isle of Arran 80 

Ronald Hamilton and his Son Peter 80 

An Artist's Impression of an Army Truck negotiating Ronald 
Hamilton's Swiss Roll 81 


The Panjandrum on the Beach at Instow after being launched 

from its Landing-craft. 1 28 

Westward Ho ! November i 2, 1943 : The First Steering Trials 1 28 
The Death Throes of the Great Panjandrum, at Westward Ho ! 

January 1944 128 
A Pattern of Hedgehog Bombs seen as they climb the Sky and 

after the Explosion under water 1 29 

A Hedgehog Mounting with the Bombs in Position 1 29 

The Lonely Setting of one of D.M.W.D.'s Trial Grounds on 

the Somerset Goast 144 

Close-up View of the Catapult Track at Middle Hope Cove 144 

H.M.S. Birnbeck, the War-time Experimental Station of 

D.M.W.D. at Weston-super-Mare, as it is to-day 145 

Dick Crowe and Lieutenant-Commander C.N. Boswell, 
R.N. V.R., in one of the Launches used for Trials Work 
at Birnbeck 145 

The Giant Pipes laid on the Beach at Portslade in Readiness 

for the Trials of Bubble Harbour 192 

Soft Lilo, the Forerunner of the Bombardon Floating Break- 
water, under Construction in the Docks at Southampton 1 92 

M The Most Formidable Weapon in All the Long History of 
Shore Bombardment" 193 

"Stretching away along the Lower Deck from the Base of the 
Bridge were serried Ranks of Huge Rockets ..." 1 93 

The Bombardon Breakwater in Position at Arromanches 208 

Cross-section View of a Bombardon Floating Breakwater Unit 208 

Lieutenant Guy Boissard, R.N.V.R., and Surgeon-Commander 
C. L. G. Pratt, R.N.V.R., dressing in their Woollen and 
Stockinet Suits before descending to the Bed of Horsea 
Lake, May 1944 209 

Sub-Lieutenant W. J. L. Smith, R.N.V.R., and Lieutenant- 
Commander Edward Case, R.N.V.R. 209 

One of the Team wearing a Protective Cap which resembled a 
Judge's Wig 209 

Case dressed in one of the Special Suite which were evolved 
after the Hazardous Experiments with Explosive Charges on 
the Bed of the Lake 209 

Lieutenant R. F. Eades, R.N.V.R., supervising the Installation 

of one of the Department's Rocket Grapnels in a Dory 256 

Rocket Grapnel in Action West of Omaha Beach on D-Day 256 

Merryweather Fire-escape mounted in a D.U.K.W. 256 
Troops using the Ladder to scale a Cliff in Trials on the South 

Coast shortly before D-Day 256 

Hedgerow Craft breaching the Enemy's Shore Defences on D-Day 257 



A General View of Mulberry B, the British-built Invasion 
Harbour at Arromanches 272 

Admiral Sir William Tennant, Flag Officer in Charge of 

Mulberry and Pluto 272 

Oblique View of Mulberry B, looking towards the South-west 272 

A Battery of Rocket Guns operated by a Team from D.M.W.D. 

during Flying-bomb Attacks on the South Coast after D-Day 273 
One of the Same Weapons in Action during a Night Raid 273 


Menu Card for the First Reunion Dinner of the Wheezers and 
Dodgers 289 

Mulberry Harbour Endpapers 


1. Phoenix Units: A concrete breakwater in sections. 

2. Leviathan : The ship which filled the Phcenix Units with sand to 

give them extra weight. 

3. Corncobs : Old merchant ships sunk as a breakwater. 

4. Gooseberry: Code name of the breakwater formed by Corncobs. 

5. Spud Piers : The landing wharf at which material was unloaded. 

6. Whale: The bridge connecting Spud Piers to the shore. 

7. Beetles : The pontoons on which the Whales were supported. 

8. Headquarters: Naval officer in charge. 

9 and 10. Mulberry *B' : the full code name of the artificial harbour. 

1 1 . Golden Arrow : Arrow, the code name for the port of Arromanches. 

Gold, the code name of the beach sector. 

12. Liberty Trot: Trot of buoys for Liberty ships. 

13. Liberty ships anchorage. 

14. Rhinos: The power-driven pontoons on which cargo was brought 


15. Ducks : The D.UJLW.'s, amphibious vehicles. 

16. Duck cushions : Assembly point for Ducks. 

17. Planter: The code name for officer in charge of sinking arrange* 

ments for Phcenix and Corncob. 

1 8. Western entrance to harbour. 

19. Northern entrance to harbour. 

20. Eastern entrance to harbour. 

... and, mark you, our scientists are not 
surpassed in any nation in the world, 
especially when their thought is applied 
to Naval matters..., 




THIS is the story of a group of naval scientists, the story of a 
department in the Admiralty which had no exact counterpart 
in the whole complex Allied machine which waged the Second 
World War against Gennany and her confederates the story of the 
Wheezers and Dodgers. 

The Wizard War, as Sir Winston Churchill has termed the cease- 
less struggle for mastery between the Allied and enemy scientists, 
involved moves and counter-moves often 'unintelligible to ordinary 
folk. 9 And for long after the war was over a detailed description of 
some of those moves, which would have made them intelligible to 
the layman, was inadvisable on security grounds. 

To-day, however, most of what was attempted and achieved by 
the Royal Navy's Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapon Develop- 
ment to give the Wheezers and Dodgers their official title is no 
longer on the secret list. It has remained untold only, one presumes, 
because D.M.W.D. was essentially a clandestine organization, its 
triumphs and failures unknown to all but a relatively small circle of 
Servicemen and civilian scientists. 

The Wheezers and Dodgers were a research and development 
team. They were formed in the shadow of defeat in Europe, and 
their activities reached flood tide with the Allied landings on the 
coast of Normandy four years later. In those four years they were 
destined to tackle some of the strangest tasks in the history of war- 

ON the last Sunday in May 1 940 there was intense activity in the 
Admiralty. The British Expeditionary Force, with four of its 
divisions in imminent danger of encirclement outside Lille, was fight- 
ing its way back to the French coast, and Operation Dynamo was on. 
The firat significant move in this naval plan for the evacuation 
from France had wisely been made a full week earlier. When the 
German Army broke through at Sedan an immediate request went 
from the Admiralty to the Ministry of Shipping for all available 


coasting vessels to proceed to the Downs, but as late as May 24 it 
was still not certain that a major evacuation would be feasible. 
Since then the situation had deteriorated alarmingly, and no one on 
the naval staff expected more than 45,000 men to be brought away 
from the beaches. But now the die was cast. The operation named 
Dynamo was to be attempted. 

A severe ordeal faced the array of little ships massing in the 
Downs. The Germans had already reached the coast near Calais, 
and were shelling any vessels which tried to approach Dunkirk direct. 
H.M.S. Wolfhound, carrying the imperturbable Captain William 
Tennant and his staff to Dunkirk, where he was to act as the Navy's 
Master of Ceremonies at the evacuation, had to make a sixty-mile 
d&our to avoid a minefield, and was dive-bombed all the way, a 
final stick of bombs straddling her as she reached the inner harbour. 

For the individual protection of the hundreds of coasting vessels 
now awaiting the orders of Vice-Admiral, Dover, there was little that 
the Admiralty could provide against the mounting air attack. The 
threat of enemy mines was another matter, however, and as the un- 
ceasing stream of trawlers and colliers, yachts and drifters, barges 
and paddle steamers, neared the assembly area they were diverted to 
one of three South Coast ports and shepherded through a strange 

As ship after ship made fast, working parties of sailors swarmed 
on board. Heaving-lines were thrown to them by men in boats along- 
side, and then, sweating and straining, they began to haul a huge 
cable of copper wire slowly up the ship's side. A whistle shrilled, and 
for a few seconds the cable dung to the hull. Then it slid slowly back 
to rest under the water. A brief pause for mysterious calculations, 
and the ship was cleared for sea, another heading in immediately to 
take her place. 

Hour after hour, through daylight and the confusion of darkness, 
this selfsame performance was repeated. In four days four hundred 
ships destined for Dunkirk underwent this baptism by electricity 
surging from enormous submarine storage batteries ashore. To the 
older men in the crews of the trawlers and small coasters ordered for- 
ward for these strange attentions men whose lives had been bound 
up with the simpler science of wind, tides, and stars the whole 
business must have savoured of black magic. 

They knew about the magnetic mine. The Germans had been 
sowing them by parachute in the shallow waters of the shipping 
channels and harbours, where they lay inert and invisible till some 
poor devil took his ship over them. They had seen escorting destroy- 
ers and the bigger merchantmen, their hulls festooned with coil 
upon coil of cable some sort of protection against these magnetic 


mines thought up by the scientific chaps. That might be all right for 
ships with enough power to keep the coils charged; for the rest 
and that meant the greater part of the civilian fleet waiting to head 
for Dunkirk there was nothing to hope for in that line. Nothing, at 
least, till now, though what good could come of wiping a wire against 
the hull and taking it away after less than half a minute was difficult 
to understand. There seemed little sense in it. 

To the team of naval scientists from H.M.S. Vernon, the Torpedo 
and Mining establishment at Portsmouth, who had been roped in 
en bloc to supervise this urgent operation, and toiled with little rest 
for four days and nights, this 'wiping' technique had, however, 
developed well beyond the realm of experiment. They were now 
applying a proved and brilliantly simple answer to the problem 
first studied in the Vernon six months earlier, after Lieutenant- 
Commanders Ouvry and Lewis had retrieved from a mud-bank in 
the Thames the first magnetic mine to fall into British hands intact. 

When that first mine was dissected it was found that if a ship's 
natural magnetic field could be reduced by some artificial means to 
a certain point the steel hull would no longer set the mechanism of 
the mine in motion. 

Two initial tasks, therefore, faced the men in Vernon 9 s Mine 
Design Department. They had to find a practical way of demag- 
netizing or 'degaussing' ships so that the lurking mines remained 
inert on the sea-bed when approached. And they had to discover 
how these mines could be swept. 

It was a race against time, and the team of scientists anxiously 
pursuing their own lines of research in Vernon were called upon to 
investigate the wildest schemes put up to the Admiralty by well- 
meaning individuals who had thought up their own dramatic 
counter-measures. Typical of these was the following plan, forwarded 
officially to the Admiralty by an influential member of one of the 
Navy's most famous shore establishments. 

It has been suggested [said the writer] that a means of causing 
magnetic mines to explode harmlessly may be found by attaching 
small but strong permanent magnets to flat fish, and distributing 
these fish over die sea bottom. The fish, moving in search of food, 
would, at short range, bring mines under the influence of a magnetic 
field and consequently cause explosion. The questions are (i) 
Whether the influence of a magnet which could be carried by a fish 
would be effective; and (a) Whether the scheme is possible from the 
'fish' point of view. 

The writer plainly had doubts about "the 'fish' point of view," 
but he had, he confided, been encouraged by an optimistic opinion 


expressed to him by a marine biologist. The latter favoured catching 
skates and rays, "which are large, hardy, and will survive much 
handling." The biologist had, it appeared, offered any help necessary 
to put "this excellent idea to immediate use," and the author of the 

plan added: "Mr has lately been employed on research into 

the habits of skates, so his knowledge of that aspect of the question 
is recent and first-hand." He ended his memorandum to the Lords 
Commissioners of the Admiralty on an encouraging note: "It would 
appear that if a suitable small magnet will do its work, then the skate 
can be induced to do the rest." 

Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker had been appointed by the First 
Lord of the Admiralty, then Mr Churchill, to supervise all technical 
measures for defeating the magnetic mine, and to him this memo- 
randum was passed. The cares of office had not robbed the Admiral 
of his sense of humour, and in due course the author of this imagina- 
tive scheme received the following formal reply: 

1. The suggestion contained in your 191 /D 478 is considered of 
great value. 

2. As a first step in the development of this idea it is proposed to 
establish a School for Flat Fish at the R.N. College, Dartmouth. 
Candidates for this course should be entered in the first place as Pro- 
bationary Flat Fish, and these poor fish would be confirmed in their 
rank on showing their proficiency by exploding a mine. 

3. A very suitable source of candidates to tap would be the Angel 
Fish of Bermuda, which, though flat, swim in a vertical plane. 

4. With the success of this scheme it may be necessary to control 
fried-fish shops. 

5. It is requested that you will forward, through the usual chan- 
nels, proposals as to the necessary accommodation, and a suggested 
syllabus of the Course. 

The sponsor of this novel plan reluctantly concluded that the 
Admiralty were unable to recognize a good idea when they saw one, 
and the skates and rays never contributed to the war effort after all ! 

Within a month, and despite such well-intentioned distractions, 
the team at Vernon had established the principle of degaussing ves- 
sels by passing current through cables permanently fixed to their hull. 
Devising a practical technique for sweeping the mines presented 
much greater difficulties. Professor B. P. Haigh, Professor of Mech- 
anical Engineering at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, was the 
first to hit on the idea of two minesweepers towing floating parallel 
cables through which violent pulses of electricity could be discharged 
to detonate the mines, but his scheme involved the use of so many 
thousand horse-power of electricity that special power plants would 
have been needed. 








The tank is seen here at the 
entrance to Whale Island, the 
Royal Navy's gunnery school at 
Portsmouth, before its memor- 
able trial run. Menhinick,in 
Army uniform, is standing 
immediately behind the Naval 
officer in the foreground. 

/ 4 





Imperial War Museum 



Although the damage appears 

considerable, the Plastic 
Protective Plating prevented any 
penetration, and many lives were 

Imperial War Museum 


At this point of stalemate a young lieutenant-commander 
R.N.V.R. who had been serving for some weeks in Vernon as Staff 
Technical Adviser to Captain Denis Boyd, 1 the establishment's com- 
manding officer, and had been following the progress reports, made 
a significant discovery. 

Charles Frederick Goodeve was a Canadian, now in his middle 
thirties. He had come to England twelve years earlier on an Empire 
scholarship, and when war broke out he was Reader in Physical 
Chemistry at University College, London. He had also made rapid 
progress as a private consultant in chemical and electrical engineer- 
ing. If science absorbed Charles Goodeve's working hours the Navy 
was his dominant interest outside them. One of five children, he had 
been brought up in Winnipeg, on the Red River, which flows north 
to 3OO-mile-long Lake Winnipeg, with its fascinating, picturesque 
islands and beaches. His father was a Church of England parson, 
and his parents, always hard up, solved the holiday problem by 
building a cottage on the lake. There the children spent months 
every year, eating the lake fish they caught and the abundant fruit. 
Charles, an unsociable boy older than his years, would disappear for 
weeks on end, covering hundreds of miles in boats or canoes with his 
Husky dog as his only companion. 

As soon as he could he joined the Canadian Navy's Volunteer 
Reserve. In those early days he had no interest in the technical side. 
For him the Navy spelt excitement and adventure, and every year he 
spent three golden summer months afloat, either in the Patrician, an 
ancient destroyer, or in a minesweeper, where he soon found himself, 
to his intense pride, second in command. At that time two old des- 
troyers, discarded by the Royal Navy after the First World War, and 
four minesweepers comprised the entire Canadian Fleet, but its 
youngest commissioned officer was given a thorough grounding in 
navigation and seamanship. 

In spite of these halcyon days as a naval reservist, life was far from 
easy for young Charles Goodeve. His father's health broke down, 
and, with the family hard put to it to make ends meet, he left school 
early and apprenticed himself to a firm of Chartered Accountants in 
Winnipeg. His mother was determined that after a while he should 
return to college; Charles, tasting the first delights of financial inde- 
pendence, had no intention of surrendering his freedom. But Mrs 
Goodeve was an astute tactician. As soon as the family's resources 
permitted she got him fired from the job, and back he went to study 
electrical engineering. Soon he switched to science. 

*Now Admiral Sir Denis Boyd, K.C.B., C.B.E., D.S.G., principal of Ashridge 


He proved an apt pupil. His naval training had increased his self- 
reliance, and he was beginning to shed the unsociability and intro- 
spection of his boyhood years. Already he had an astonishingly clear, 
analytical mind which quickly rejected the non-essential and gave 
perspective and ready significance to what remained. At nineteen he 
was lecturing at the University of Manitoba, mightily relieved that 
his hair was prematurely grey ! At twenty-three he held the degree of 
Master of Science and the Gold Medal of the Engineering Institute 
of Canada, awarded for spectacularly successful research work into 
the cause of a disastrous explosion in the city central-heating 

In the same year he won a scholarship to University College, Lon- 
don. There he was destined to spend the next twelve years. Before 
leaving Canada, however, there was one goal which he desperately 
wanted to attain. He had been long waiting for a chance to take his 
final Navigation test, and a few weeks before sailing for England he 
was ordered to report at Esquimalt. He was to take the ancient 
Patrician to sea, carry out certain manoeuvres, and anchor her in the 
Bay. After sleepless nights, going through every detail of procedure 
and word of command, the great day had come. The Patrician had 
been undergoing major repairs to her engines, a not infrequent 
occurrence, but when Goodeve went on board and asked anxiously 
whether she would be ready for sea he was told that all was well. 
"They've patched her up again. You're to take her out of harbour 
at 0900," said the captain to the nervous candidate. 

At 0857 Goodeve gave his first orders. 

"Let go after springs !" 

"All lines clear aft, sir." 

"Fifteen port!" 

"Fifteen port on, sir." 

He then ordered "Slow ahead, port" to swing her stern out, but 
hardly had he uttered the words when there was a colossal explosion 
and clouds of steam billowed from the engine-room hatch. It was the 
end of the veteran. Patrician's main engine connexions had burst 

Young Goodeve climbed sadly down from the bridge. He was 
never again to have the opportunity of gaining the "N" that he 
coveted, but England, which offered vastly greater scope to the 
scientist, widened the experience of the sailor too. Goodeve trans- 
ferred to the R.N.V.R., and in the decade before the war he went 
to sea in submarines and minesweepers, served in four battleships 
and three destroyers, and began to specialize in the electrical side. 

By 1935 the wardroom talk was of war. Up till then Goodeve had 
been content to regard his naval training as an absorbing hobby 


the complete relaxation from his research work and the lectures he 
gave to young scientists and medical students. 

Now he sensed a changing atmosphere during his spells afloat, an 
awareness of the approaching storm which gave a new urgency to the 
training programme. Dissatisfied with his old complacency, Goodeve 
started planning to use his scientific proficiency. He qualified as a 
Torpedo specialist in the Defiance at Devonport: by the time war 
broke out he had been right round the Navy, studying tactics, inves- 
tigating technical problems, and arguing long into the night with 
any senior officers he could provoke into debate on the part which 
science would play in the war at sea. In peace-time the average serv- 
ing officer tends to look upon change with ill-concealed suspicion, 
and Goodeve's theories startled the conservatively minded members 
of many wardrooms. But he made friendships which were to stand 
him in good stead. Two regular officers in particular, Commander 
C.N.E. Curry and Willie Dallmeyer, the Instructional Commander 
at H.M.S. Vernon, took the young Canadian under their wing. 
Curry, sharp-featured and staccato of speech, was an electrical 
specialist with a supreme contempt for orthodoxy. He was an all- 
rounder, intensely keen on technical progress and a fine seaman, who 
taught Goodeve much about the finer points of sailing a dinghy. 
Captain Denis Boyd was another whom Goodeve found particularly 
receptive to new ideas, and it was a happy chance that sent Goodeve 
to work under him at Vernon when the war was still only a few 
hours old. 

When he arrived at Portsmouth a team which included Dr A. B. 
Wood, of the Naval Mine Design Department later to be joined 
by Dr Edward Bullard 1 was hard at work on magnetic-mine 
counter-measures. In the early stages Goodeve himself was more 
closely concerned with a projected screen for countering magnetic 
torpedoes, but when the snag developed in Haigh's design of the 
Double L Sweep the plan for towing electrically charged cables 
astern of a pair of minesweepers he was brought into the discus- 

Sifting through the mass of intricate calculations passed to him, 
and wondering how Haigh's ingenious plan could be made to work, 
he came across a paper by a young scientist named Tuck. This sug- 
gested a means of reducing the power needed for the Double L 
Sweep very substantially. Here was a vital clue. If Tuck's scheme 
could be modified, applied to Haigh's basic idea, and combined with 
the electrodes used in the torpedo screen they had the answer to the 
magnetic mine. 

*Now Sir Edward Bullard, lately Director of the National Physical Labora- 


Greatly excited, Goodeve searched through his address book and 
put through a call to a man named Guggenheim, 1 whom he had 
often worked with at University College. 

"Can you pack your bag and come down to Portsmouth straight 
away ? I've got a problem here which is right in your line." 

"What's it all about?" said Guggenheim, surprised. 

"I can't explain on the 'phone, but Pfl ring the Admiralty and 
get their security people to give you a clearance. Pick up a rail 
voucher, and I'll meet you off the train which gets into Portsmouth 
at 2124.*' 

Guggenheim, a brilliant mathematician, joined Goodeve a few 
hours later. After four days of trial and error on paper, checking and 
counter-checking calculations, they thought they had the answer. 
Now it was a question of giving the apparatus they had designed a 
practical test. Would the current flowing back through the sea from 
the Double L Sweep cancel out the current still coming from the 
cables? That was the first thing Goodeve had to be certain about; 
Guggenheim, checking his figures for the tenth time, was encourag- 
ingly confident. 

For the trial they needed a calm stretch of water where they could 
work undisturbed and it had to be sea water. Right on the spot in 
Portsmouth was the ideal place the Canoe Lake, where small boys 
sailed their model yachts but security was the snag. The Canoe 
Lake was in full view of the public, and overlooked by near-by 
houses. Any attempt to screen it off would undoubtedly attract atten- 
tion, and it was important that the sailors helping with the trial 
should not realize what was happening. So Goodeve thought up an 
ingenious cover-plan. In the deepest of confidence the sailors and 
police were told that a new secret device for detecting enemy ships 
was being tried. A large number of models were launched on to the 
waters of the lake, some floating proudly as the schoolboys' yachts, 
and some mounted on pieces of wood. 

It was a bitterly cold winter day, and ice had to be swept aside 
before the trial could start. Then .the sailors began towing their model 
ships backward and forward across the lake, watched by an ever- 
growing crowd of housewives, small boys, and policemen. 

Of all the gathering on the lakeside only Goodeve and two assis- 
tants knew what was afoot. They had brought with them a large 
box. In it was the mechanism of the German magnetic mine which 
Quvry had brought from its resting-place on the mud-bank at Shoe- 
buryness. This could not be placed on the bed of the lake; the water 
was too shallow. So they decided to reverse the normal procedure, 
the Double L Sweep wires being strung out along the bottom of the 
1 Since 1946 Professor of Chemistry at Reading University. 


lake. The mine itself, hidden in its box, was lifted into one of the 
rowing-boats, and as the sailors hauled their model ships to and fro 
the boat carrying the mine and three tense observers moved slowly 
among them. 

When they had been afloat, ostensibly engrossed in the move- 
ments of the models, long enough to allay any interest on the part of 
the spectators they pulled towards the head of the lake. Goodeve 
bent over the instruments connected to the mine mechanism. 

"Tell them they can switch on now!" he ordered quietly. At a 
signal from the boat the current began flowing through the sub- 
merged cables. And as they paddled slowly back down the lake a 
spasmodic flickering on the dial in front of him announced the firing 
of the mechanism of the German mine at all corners of the sweep. In 
the freezing cold wind, which whipped up small waves on the grey 
waters of the lake, Goodeve found himself sweating with excitement. 
It had worked! The magnetic mine on which Hitler had based high 
hopes of securing Britain's blockade could be destroyed just as 
certainly as the ordinary moored mine. 

Making his way through the crowd still staring fascinated at the 
little wooden models, Goodeve hurried back to Vernon. On his desk 
lay an envelope marked "Top Secret," and he extracted a brief, 
emphatic memorandum with a Whitehall note-heading: 

You should discontinue any research on the lines you have indi- 
cated in your latest report. It is clear to me that the method you 
suggest will prove self-cancelling, and cannot work. 

The triumph on the Canoe Lake was doubly sweet ! 

Early in the following cheerless February of the "phoney war," 
when the only bright gleam of achievement to stir a chilled and 
somewhat apathetic public was provided by Captain Philip Vian 
and the Altmark rescue, there was a private celebration in the 
Vernon. The Double L Sweep had its fust operational success. By 
then Goodeve had applied his keen mind to another worrying prob- 
lem with equally happy results. ' 

The Admiralty had set up a vigorous organization under Vice- 
Admiral Sir Richard Lane-Poole to cope with the degaussing of 
Allied shipping. In terms of time, labour, and materials it was a 
colossal task, for every ship and there were over 10,000 vessels on 
Lloyd's Register had to be put through a special test to determine 
its magnetic field; vast lengths of special copper cable had to be 
fitted; and men had to be trained to use the new equipment. 1 Some- 

1 In the first two years of the war 50.000 miles of degaussing cable were fitted 
to Allied ships by Admiral Lane-Poole s organization. In this period degaussing 
equipment cost an estimated 20,000,000. Between May and June 1940 (the 
time of Dunkirk) aooo ships were degaussed, and a further 1000 were Sviped.' 


thing much quicker and much simpler was needed to make the ships 
safe against the magnetic mine particularly the smaller ships, which 
had not enough power available to use the degaussing system even 
if it could be installed. 

"We don't seem to be making headway fast enough. There's 
another meeting to-morrow afternoon, and Admiralty have been 
getting on to Boyd again." It was a day early in January, and Good- 
eve had Richardson 1 with him a fair-haired, thin-featured sub- 
lieutenant R.N.V.R. wearing the green stripe of the Special Branch. 2 
Richardson had been a student of Goodeve's in the early thirties. 
Before he won a Commonwealth Scholarship to Princeton in 1937 
they had done a good deal of research together on torpedo problems. 
For one still in his twenties he had an unusual maturity and balance; 
in addition, Goodeve noted with particular admiration his tenacious 
unwillingness to accept defeat, either technically or administra- 
tively. That meant a lot in the kind of work they were now carrying 
out. They had formed a good team on the Double L Sweep, and 
now, to refresh his mind, Goodeve went over the ground already 
covered in the degaussing calculations, thinking aloud while his 
deputy traced abstract patterns on the blotter in front of him. 

"The only way to speed things up is to find some means by which 
the steel can degauss itself." 

"Is there anything in the French idea?" Richardson asked. 

"Too elaborate. Besides, it would cost about half a million . . . but 
that's obviously the line of attack. We've got to introduce negative 
magnetism into the ships without having to build a vast installation." 

The French Navy had put forward the suggestion that ships 
should be passed through a gigantic coil, reversing their magnetism 
by this means. Poring over his notes and figures once again, Goodeve 
felt he was very close to the solution. It seemed like the Double L 
Sweep stumbling-block all over again. If only he could cut down the 
current needed for this demagnetizing process the rest was easy. For 
most of that night he stayed in the office, worrying at the problem 
like a terrier. 

By next morning he had produced a formula which satisfied him. 
It employed in a very simple equipment only one-hundredth of the 
current used in the huge French coil. If this worked, all that was now 
necessary to protect ships against the magnetic mine was to 'wipe' 
their hulls for a few seconds with a copper cable charged with elec- 
tric current. This roughly cancelled out the ship's own vertical 
magnetism, and although the effect was not permanent the vessels 

a Now Dr F. D. Richardson, Director of the Nuffield Research Group at 
University College, London. 
* Non-executive officers specially recruited for their technical qualifications. 


would have to be 'wiped' again at intervals of so many months the 
whole process would take only a few minutes. 

Goodeve's calculations were rushed to London and fed into the 
Admiralty machine but for some time there was complete and 
galling inactivity. After two decades of peace the machine still moved 
with ponderous and cautious deliberation in matters of research and 
development. Goodeve had no say in the arrangement of the trials. 
These were to be 'laid on' by another department, but as he passed 
through the barrier at Waterloo Station one morning later in the 
month he ran into the man responsible for rushing the experiments 

"How are you getting on?" he asked. 

"Oh, all right I've put in a request for a destroyer, but 

nothing much has happened about it yet. I expect it'll turn up some 
time, and then we can get on with the job of checking your figures." 

"Look here," said Goodeve, startled to realize that nothing at all 
had been done, "would there be any objection to us doing tie pre- 
liminary work?" 

"Oh, none at all, old man You carry on by all means." 

Plainly relieved to be rid of his responsibility, the Admiralty official 
hurried away. Goodeve, cursing the wasted days, went to a 'phone- 
box and rang up Richardson at Portsmouth. When he got back to 
Vernon that night he found that Richardson, with a borrowed Wool- 
worth's compass, had carried out a complete series of trials on 
destroyer plates and merchant-ship steels. He had even cajoled the 
Dockyard into hoisting a steel lighter for him to work on, and by 
hammering the plates and reversing the current supplied by a genera- 
tor in one of the machine shops he had demonstrated that he could 
restore the magnetism which the wiping had faithfully cancelled out. 
From now on it was plain sailing. 

If there had been delay in testing Goodeve's theory, no time was 
lost in applying this new and brilliantly simple form of protection to 
the hundreds of ships unable to use the cumbersome degaussing gear. 
It had a tremendous effect on morale. 

Aged mariners came up to scientists in the street and shook their 
hands for saving their lives. Confidence in wiping even became exces- 
sive and myths arose. One captain reported, after his ship had been 
wiped "Why, my dear chap, you could see torpedoes going harm- 
lessly in all directions!" 1 

For all the myths, however, there was soon solid proof that Good- 
eve had made a major contribution to the defeat of the magnetic 
mine. And though on this eve of Dunkirk the men of the coasters 

1 J. G. Growther and R. Whiddington, Science at War (H.M.S.O., 1947), p. 171. 


watched sceptically while the huge cables were hauled from the 
water to perform their strange rites, they, too, readily acknowledged 
their debt to the scientists 151 the hectic days which followed. 

Out of the 218 ships lost during Operation Dynamo only two of 
them the armed boarding steamer Monet s Queen and the Fleet 
Air Arm yacht Grive were claimed by magnetic mines. 


IRONICALLY enough, the eve of Dunkirk found Goodeve out of a 
job and viewing his next appointment with ill-concealed anxiety. 
In the first few weeks of the war he had discovered that without 
a knowledge of Admiralty procedure any relatively junior R.N.V.R. 
officer working on research and development at one of the outlying 
shore establishments had little chance of securing quick decisions. 
His investigations into circling torpedoes and the magnetic mine 
often took him to London, and when he had ferreted out the techni- 
cal information he wanted from the files in D.S.R.'s department 1 in 
Archway Block South, dose to the Mall, he often stayed on, chatting 
to the Admiralty civilian officers, until it was time for him to catch 
the train back to Portsmouth. 

From them he learnt much that was to stand him in good stead 
the organization for dealing with the dockets bearing suggestions, 
recommendations, and information which circulated in a constant 
stream through the "In" and "Out" trays of the various depart- 
ments; the precise responsibilities of each Staff Division; and just 
where these sometimes overlapped or failed to meet. 

Charles Wright, 2 the Navy's Director of Scientific Research, was 
a tall, alert man with the wrinkled, weatherbeaten look of the Arctic 
voyager; he had been physicist to Scott's South Polar expedition 
before the First World War. Goodeve found him an ally from the 
start, but a few of the people in Whitehall were frankly critical of 
the 'interloper from the Vernon* who kept on wandering into the 
department and asking questions. Set in their ways, they liked things 
to be done through the Right Channels, and they had a strong sus- 
picion that this self-assured young two-and-a-half ringer who drifted 
into their rooms uninvited, and was always hobnobbing with the 
civilian officers, would disregard the Right Channels whenever it 
suited him. 

1 D.S.R. was the Director of Scientific Research. 

* Now Sir Charles Wright, K.C.B., OJB.E., until recently Director of the 
Marine Physical Laboratory. 


Their resentment of Goodeve, with his impatient, unorthodox 
approach to problems which, after all, they argued, would be solved 
perfectly satisfactorily sooner or later by the routine methods, mir- 
rored an attitude of mind not uncommon in Whitehall. In many 
departments of the Service ministries there were men whose whole 
lives had been devoted to the strange, abstract ideal of service to a 
machine. Loyal, hard-working, and conscientious to a degree, they 
believed implicitly in the routine laid down for them. 

All their working lives the machine they served had run at a set 
tempo, producing after suitable periods of gestation new ships, new 
aircraft, and new weapons . . . new batches of young gentlemen at 
Dartmouth; new and often impetuous Commanders, who had to be 
taught on arrival at the Admiralty that the machine had only one 
strict tempo; and new First Sea Lords, who already knew this from 
painful experience. It all took time, and if people like Goodeve 
thought they could short-circuit long-established procedure they 
would have to be shown that the machine did not take kindly to 
attempts at acceleration. 

Goodeve declined to be shown. The contacts he was making en- 
abled him to speed the progress of various projects he was still super- 
vising at H.M.S. Vernon, and he could therefore afford to ignore 
any hostility he encountered from the minority. It was, after all, a 
relatively small minority. Many of the Admiralty civilian staff were 
pleasantly surprised to find a naval officer genuinely interested in 
their work and problems, and Goodeve's easy informality made him 
a welcome visitor. 

One morning towards the end of May he had a 'phone call from 
a man he knew in the Admiralty. 

"You've just about finished your job at Vernon> haven't you?" 

"I'm clearing up now," said Goodeve. "Know any interesting 
jobs going in my line?" 

"No," said the voice, "but I know one which isn't in your line, 
and if you don't move fast you'll find yourself landed with it. Haring- 
ton's put in for you ! Just thought I'd warn you." 

"Thanks for the tip," said Goodeve ruefully. 

He knew Harington well, and he knew just what the job meant. 
For the rest of the war he would be shackled to an endless, mono- 
tonous round of inspecting electrical gear and putting up with Har- 
ington's constant browbeating. Harington had a genius for upsetting 
people, and rumour related that one of his distracted subordinates 
had thrown a steel filing-cabinet at him ! 

Goodeve's one hope was Wake-Walker, the pivot round whom all 
the anti-magnetic-mine measures had centred. At their last meeting 
Wake-Walker had mentioned a new department which the 


Admiralty were setting up under Vice-Admiral Somerville. 1 Unable 
to get Wake-Walker on the 'phone, he took his courage in both 
hands and rang up Somerville, only to find he had left for Dover; 
he had been temporarily detached to assist Admiral Ramsey with 
Operation Dynamo. It was to Dover that Goodeve went that night. 

James Somerville was one of the great characters of the Navy. 
Just prior to the war he had been Commander-in-Chief , East Indies, 
and he was already a Vice-Admiral when he was 'invalided' with 
suspected lung trouble. Whatever the doctors thought, Somerville 
himself was belligerently certain there was nothing wrong with him, 
and he supported his views with such power of invective that a later 
Medical Board quakingly pronounced him fit for limited employ- 
ment. When he came rampaging back into the Service the Admiralty 
were looking for a strong personality to speed up the introduction of 
the greatest brainchild of the military scientists prior to the atomic 
bomb the detection and location of aircraft by radar. Somerville, 
a radio signals specialist, filled the bill, and he was given the impos- 
ing c cover' title of Inspector of Anti-aircraft Weapons and Devices 

Goodeve met him in Ramsey's house above the fortress at Dover, 
and took to him immediately. Behind his bluff manner was a shrewd, 
wide-ranging mind, and as they snatched a hasty meal they mulled 
over ideas for anti-aircraft measures, passive defence, and rocket 
warfare. The mounting German air offensive against Allied shipping 
and the desperate shortage of close-range weapons to combat it was 
a theme to which Somerville returned again and again. He was 
convinced that the danger was not fully appreciated; dive-bombing 
attacks on coastal traffic and long-range assaults by heavy bombers 
on the Atlantic convoys could strangle Britain's war supplies. Back 
in the Dynamo operations room they talked with many interruptions 
right through the night, Somerville plying the scientist with ques- 
tions. It was after daybreak when Goodeve walked down the hill to 
catch the finst train for London. In his pocket was a request to the 
Admiralty scribbled in Somerville's strangely boyish handwriting on 
a sheet torn from a signal pad. It asked for Goodeve's immediate 
attachment to I.A.A.W. & D. " Collect a small team and get to work 
on some of those ideas of yours," were Somerville's parting words. 
"You'll have a free hand, but I want results, and I want them 

A free hand ! Goodeve suddenly thought of Harington, and felt 
again in his pocket to make sure that his new passport to freedom 
was still there. Then he fell asleep in the crowded carriage, and the 
train jolted on towards London with hundreds of other men who 

1 Later Admiral of the Fleet Sir James Somerville, G.C.B., G.B.E., D.S.O. 


slept too, their rifles and packs strewn in motley confusion about 
them the men snatched overnight from the beaches and shattered 
quays of Dunkirk. 

Oblivious of this shaping of their destinies, the members of Good- 
eve's team-to-be were scattered far and wide in this first week of 
June 1940. 

NevU Shute Norway, an engineer who wrote increasingly success- 
ful novels in his spare time, had been connected with flying all his life. 
He had helped to build the airship R.ioo ; he had been managing direc- 
tor of a famous pioneer firm in the light-aircraft industry ; and since the 
war he had been working with his old chief, Sir Dennistoun Burney, 
on the design of a gliding torpedo which the Fleet Air Arm were 
interested in. When the Germans overran the Low Countries Nor- 
way threw down his slide-rule. What was the point of experimental 
work now? England would only be saved by people going off to 
fight not by able-bodied men sitting in offices and designing equip- 
ment for use a year or more hence. Norway was forty too old to 
fly on operations, but he had sailed a boat ever since he was a boy 
and was well versed in celestial navigation. So he wrote to the 
Admiralty, offering his services to the R.N.V.R., who were calling 
for "Elderly Yachtsmen," and was promptly accepted. 

In the same week the R.N.V.R. acquired another Elderly Yachts- 
man named Currie. Donald Currie had been through Osborne and 
Dartmouth, but left the Royal Navy after the First World War be- 
cause, as he would often remark to his friends when pulled up for 
some minor infraction as a lieutenant R.N.V.R. in the Second War, 
he had "found the regulations so boring." 

Between the wars he had managed with great success to avoid 
regulations and routine of any kind, burying himself in the heart of 
Devon, where he painted water-colours, developed a rare culinary 
skill (which he inherited from a French mother), and philosophized 
over the follies of his acquaintances who chose to fetter themselves 
to City stools. When the war came it took some time to persuade 
their Lordships that active employment should immediately be found 
for an artist from Devon, and even a strong recommendation from 
Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cork and Orrery, who remembered the 
untidy but resourceful 'snotty' serving under him in H.M.S. 
Repulse in 1917, produced no tangible result. Then Currie heard the 
call for yachtsmen, and found himself on the parade ground at 
H.M.S. King Alfred, the vast municipal swimming-bath on the front 
at Hove where embryo R.N.V.R. sub-lieutenants were put through 
their paces. Like Norway, he was happy at the thought of getting to 
sea at last. 


Lieutenant Ian Hassall, R.N.V.R., drew this cartoon to warn Harvey Projector crews of the danger 
from rocket blast. The 'victim' here caricatured is Admiral Sir Frederick Dreyer, one of the Navy's 
most famous gunnery officers. 

Imperial War Museum 

Goo&ve, the guiding genius of the WD became ***<* of ** Naval Staff, 


The R.N.V.R. had already rejected a young Gornishman named 
Menhinick for war service on account of weak eyesight, which 
rankled not a little with him, for he had joined the London Division 
of the R.N.V.R. at sixteen. And only a few weeks before the war he 
had set up a world motor-cycle speed record. Since this achievement 
involved propelling himself down the Royston Newmarket road at 
well over a hundred miles an hour he felt that the Navy were taking 
an unduly cautious attitude. The Army, to his even greater annoy- 
ance, agreed with the Navy, and said he would not make a safe dis- 
. patch rider, but they gave him a commission in the R.A.S.C, and 
put him in command of four 4-inch naval guns, for which they were 
providing the transport. In this month of June 1940 Alec Menhinick 
was reasonably content, for, although he was undeniably a 'pongo,' 
he found himself unexpectedly attached with his four guns, twenty- 
six soldiers, and a daily rum ration, to a naval establishment, H.M.S. 
Excellent. His immediate task was to await the invasion, and then 
repel it with his four ancient pieces of ordnance, but he felt that if 
he remained attached to Excellent for long enough there was a sport- 
ing chance that the Army would forget all about him. 

Some of the others destined to find their way early on into the 
strange, secret world of Charles Goodeve were already on the re- 
served list, like Tolman, a cheerful roly-poly young schoolmaster 
teaching science at WaUasey, and Coulson, a physicist whose re- 
searches for the Shirley Institute had led to a directorship of a 
Cheshire textile firm in his early twenties. Others, like Lane, a dark, 
restless, intense man who was one of the L.C.C. experts on tree 
culture, and Terrell, the barrister, were chafing at civilian tasks which 
had lost their significance. Brinsmead, in peace-time a furniture 
manufacturer, was already off the beaches with his own 4O-foot 
motor-cruiser. And ashore at Dunkirk, whers he had been sent to fly 
kites in an effort to deter the strafing German fighters, was a retired 
Commander R.N., John Dove, who could perhaps claim to be the 
first recruit of all to Goodeve's team of experimenters. For when 
Goodeve got his new appointment Dove was already serving under 
Admiral Somerville in the room in the Admiralty Arch which was 
soon to be the birthplace of some of the strangest activities in the 
whole war. 



E addition to speeding the development of radar the uncanny 
evice for tracking the movements of ships and aircraft Admiral 
omerville was charged with wide responsibilities in meeting the 
threat of the mounting enemy air offensive against Allied shipping. 
His mandate covered the whole field from the devising of new 
weapons and protection of ships to the training of crews. 

IBs department, only now taking shape, came under the Third 
Sea Lord, Vice-Admiral Bruce Fraser, 1 whose kingdom ranged over 
all matters of research and production, the supply of everything from 
ships and guns to ammunition and torpedoes, and the running of the 
great naval dockyards. 

Somerville's little department had as its immediate parent the 
Admiralty Signal Division (D.S.D.). All the smaller bodies in the 
Admiralty were placed under the broad supervision of one or other 
of the permanent Staff Divisions, but Goodeve soon found that 
D.S.D/s control over its new and puzzling offspring was purely 
nominal. So far, few of D.S.D.'s officers had been able to fathom 
precisely what the Inspector of Anti-aircraft Weapons and Devices 
was meant to do; he certainly did not appear to have much con- 
nexion with Communications. So I A.A.W. & D. were left in splen- 
did and satisfactory isolation. 

Goodeve was in no doubt about his own immediate task. The 
Navy was desperately short of close-range weapons, and in this high 
summer of 1940 many merchant ships faced the long hours of day- 
light with a single machine-gun as their sole armament. One report 
to reach the Admiralty told of the crew of a coaster, the ammuni- 
tion of their only Lewis gun exhausted, hurling lumps of coal at an 
attacking aircraft in impotent defiance. The ships had no means of 
detecting an approaching 'plane, and attacks were often over in a 
flash, the German fighter-bombers swooping out of low cloud to 
spray the unprotected bridges with cannon-fire. 

There was no escape in the narrow waters, and every ship leaving 
1 Later Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fraser of North Gape, G.C.B., K.B.E. 


the Tyne for London ran the gauntlet with little chance of hitting 
back. Soon it would be the same far out into the Atlantic, for the 
enemy were adapting their heavy Focke-Wulf long-range bombers 
for shipping attacks. 

As a first step Goodeve realized that a close study of enemy tactics 
must be made. And orthodox ideas of naval weapons were of little 
use; there was no time and not enough raw material to produce 
elaborately finished breech mechanisms, gun-mountings, and barrels, 
quite apart from the ammunition problem. If the lifeline was to be 
held, and the morale of the merchant seamen kept high, the ships 
must be quickly fitted with new devices altogether for striking at their 

At Somerville's request Richardson had been released from Ver- 
non to join the new department, and Goodeve asked the Drafting 
Commander at H.M.S. King Alfred to find him some one with 
technical knowledge of aircraft. This produced Nevil Shute Norway, 
still in civilian clothes and in a state of almost apoplectic indigna- 
tion. Before he had even been in the training-ship long enough to 
order his uniform he had been pulled out of the ranks and asked 
several awkward questions about his activities in peace-time. Less 
than a fortnight after the slide-rule had been cast aside for active 
service at sea its dejected owner was being told to retrieve it and go 
to work on some abstruse calculations of the angle of attack of enemy 
dive-bombers. It was some time before Norway recovered his usual 

Another sub-lieutenant, Harwood by name, arrived from King 
Alfred, and Goodeve, still casting round for somebody to collect and 
analyse information on enemy tactics,^ discovered Terrell, a man of 
forceful presence and inventive turn of mind he was, incidentally, 
a K.C. and Recorder of Newbury in search of a job and demon- 
strating to the head of the Admiralty's personnel branch various 
gadgets he had made, including an unspillable ink-bottle ! So he was 
roped in too. 

Somerville's department proved, on closer inspection, to house a 
surprising number of people, all crammed into one large room over 
the Admiralty Arch. There was the Admiral's personal assistant, a 
retired R.N. Commander named Millar a tallish, greying man 
with a pleasant but quietly authoritative manner and the entire 
Kite Balloon Section of the Navy, under Commander P. J. M. 
Penney, R.N., already hard at work organizing the supply of bal- 
loons and winch gear to merchant ships. In the early months of 
the war a project was afoot to send a large naval force into the Baltic, 
and as some protection against air attack it was decided to fly a mass 
of balloons above the fleet. Nothing came of the plan at the 


time, but later balloons proved a useful deterrent to low-flying 
aircraft, and Somerville, seeing possibilities in the kite as a simpler 
form of protection for merchant ships, took the section under his 

Dove, who was initially a member of Penney's team and had 
recently been conducting some intriguing experiments at Helston 
with the only really large kite in the country, which had belonged to 
Colonel Cody, the original Buffalo Bill, well remembers the sudden 
invasion of their office by Somerville's new protg6s. "There was 
only one vacant desk, and that really belonged to an Australian 
Engineer Commander named Ross, then away on sick leave. Good- 
eve, whom we all regarded as an extremely suspicious character, 
promptly appropriated this, and before long Richardson, Norway, 
Terrell, and Harwood were all sitting round it, their papers over- 
flowing on to the floor and quite often on to the adjacent desk of the 
long-suffering Commander Penney." 

Lack of space to work in was, however, the least of Goodeve's 
immediate worries. Science had played all too little a part in the 
life of the Navy before the war, and research and development took 
such a back place that there was a year's wait in the queue for sea 
trials of new equipment. 

The scientist dealing with Service ministries in peace-time had a 
hard row to hoe, and Goodeve recalled an experience of his own just 
before the war. A new kind of torpedo, designed to explode imme- 
diately beneath its target instead of striking the ship, was about to 
undergo trials, and an indicator was needed to show the precise posi- 
tion of the missile at the moment of functioning. 

Recalling the peculiarity of a gas called phosphine, which ex- 
plodes on contact with the air, Goodeve devised a means of employ- 
ing this to advantage. He planned to fit a container filled with phos- 
phine to the head of the torpedo; when the detonator fired the pocket 
of gas was released, and, rushing to the surface, it would then flare 
up in a puff of red flame and smoke. 

Finding a solution to a problem like this and gaining any support 
for it were two entirely different matters, however, and to attract 
attention to this particular proposal Goodeve eventually decided on 
a ruse. He made a deliberate mistake in the plans he submitted to 
the Admiralty, his drawings showing the phosphine cylinder fitted 
the wrong way up inside die torpedo. At this angle the gas would 
only have dribbled out, and there would have been a fatally long 
delay before it reached the surface of the sea. 

Although it was peace-time and there was no special urgency 
about the matter Goodeve was promptly summoned to the Admi- 
ralty. He was lectured on the extraordinary mistake he had made, 


and there and then he was offered a substantial sum to continue the 
development of the apparatus. 

Not long afterwards he went to H.M.S. Vernon 9 where his indica- 
tor was being tried out, and, to his surprise, he learnt that on the 
staff there was a man who only a short time earlier had put up a 
very good suggestion for just such an indicator as the Admiralty were 
now demanding. 

It had consisted of a number of small red rubber balls, inserted in 
the head of the torpedo. When these shot to the surface they marked 
the position far longer than Goodeve's puff of phosphine, and 
Goodeve saw at once that the device was simpler, safer, and cheaper 
than his own. To his astonishment, he heard that it had been re- 
jected on the grounds that there was c no staff requirement' for an 
idea of that kind. 

Happily, belated justice was done. The scheme was resurrected 
and eventually put into operation but not before Goodeve and 
others had wasted a great deal of time on evolving what would have 
been an inferior substitute. 

There was, too, the strange case of the French inventor. In the 
early thirties a series of submarine disasters shocked the nation, and 
an Admiralty committee was formed to investigate possible safety 
measures. The French Navy had already adopted the use of sodium 
peroxide to provide an emergency air supply, and the origina- 
tor of this system, a certain M. Descartes, offered it to the Admi- 

Sodium peroxide performs three functions which can be of vital 
importance in a submarine. It takes up carbon dioxide, which the 
lungs give out. It absorbs water vapour, which also comes from the 
lungs. And in doing both these things it gives off oxygen, thus restor- 
ing the air. 

The Admiralty committee were not noticeably impressed. After 
much deliberation they sent the papers to the experimental establish- 
ment at Porton. There the proposal was closely examined. Back to 
the committee went a report praising the system highly, and recom- 
mending its adoption. No further action was taken for a year, and 
then, when the committee did bestir themselves, they merely passed 
the whole matter to the Admiralty Chemist for a further investiga- 
tion of a minor technical point. The Admiralty Chemist also re- 
ported in glowing terms, but another year passed by. The proposal 
was sent to the Submarine experts, who were invited to have a fur- 
ther look at it. Again opinion was favourable, but the committee, 
still loath to take any decisive step, were now fighting a stubborn rear- 
guard action. They forwarded the details of M. Descartes' system to 
the Director of Naval Intelligence. 


In due course this department reported that some years earlier M. 
Descartes had submitted another invention to the Admiralty, entirely 
unconnected with the proposal under review. And it had proved 

This irrelevant disclosure so alarmed the committee that they 
dropped the sodium-peroxide idea like a hot brick. The war came, 
and in the fullness of time it was found that Germany's U-boats were 
equipped with just the sort of installation which the Admiralty had 
turned down. Submarine officers, who knew nothing of the back- 
ground to the whole affair, waxed wrathful and asked what on earth 
the scientists had been doing for years past. Why, they demanded, 
had such an unconscionable time been taken to produce similar 
benefits for the crews of British submarines. 

It was the old story of peace-time inertia and reluctance to take 
any action in any direction. Too many people considered it safer to 
follow a policy of masterly inactivity, and Goodeve was well aware 
that a scientific 'ideas unit" composed mainly of R.N.V.R. officers 
would be none too popular. It would not be easy, either, to recruit 
the type of officers he now needed. 

In the few months before the war it had become increasingly 
obvious that the armed forces would need scientists in uniform, and 
unsuccessful efforts were made to form a pool of volunteer scientists 
who would receive training in the seagoing side of naval service. 
This would have given them a broad practical training for 'develop- 
ment' work in war. The supporters of this plan did not suggest that 
uniform was either necessary or suitable for people working in experi- 
mental laboratories or drawing-offices, but they insisted that it was 
necessary for officers carrying out trials at sea. War-time trials, they 
pointed out, had to be controlled by the naval organization working 
in the area concerned, and had to be co-ordinated with all the other 
requirements of the war. An officer in uniform would fit more 
smoothly into such an organization. Goodeve, who had given a lot 
of thought to this question, argued that, since all wars brought a 
shortage of manpower and an even greater shortage of executives, 
the latter ought not to be handicapped by lack of authority or facili- 
ties for doing their job. The sort of executive he was looking for now 
would have to assume heavy responsibilities. He would have to assess 
the purely naval requirements of some weapon or device, consider 
the scientific and technical viewpoints, the view of the manufacturer 
and that of the sailor as well. A uniform, even if it represented no 
higher rank than a sub-lieutenant R.N.V.R., tended to give its 
wearer more authority and self-confidence, he contended but, 
although the R.A.F. adopted the idea, the Navy was strongly op- 
posed to 'technical people in uniform,' and the pre-war move had 


been firmly turned down by the Senior Service. The Battle of the 
Magnetic Mine completely reversed this attitude. 

So far Goodeve had now, in addition to Richardson, secured three 
recruits Norway, already wrestling with counter-measures for low- 
level and dive-bomber attacks; Harwood, working on lethal improve- 
ments to the first of the c stop-gap 9 weapons (a rocket-propelled cable 
and parachute); and Terrell, immersed in secret intelligence reports. 
It was obvious that more officers must come from somewhere, for 
the report which Somerville had approved on his return to the 
Admiralty launched the new section on to a far wider programme of 
invention and research. It envisaged a number of highly unusual 
anti-aircraft devices in which monster rockets and wires played their 
part; there was to be an investigation of types of explosives and 
armour; and immediate work on an idea already put up by Norway 
for detecting aircraft by acoustic means. 

For a wMle Goodeve continued to comb the ranks of King Alfred 
for men with technical training. Other recruits were tracked down in 
the universities and in industrial firms, and were hurriedly commis- 
sioned as officers in the R.N.V.R. Special Branch. In theory all 
Special Branch officers distinguished by a band of green cloth 
between the gold ' rings' were required to undergo a short course 
of naval training; often there was only time to teach them how and 
when to salute, and dissuade them from referring to "the sharp end'* 
when on board ship for trials ! 

Admiral Somerville and his assistant, Commander Millar, gave 
every encouragement to their rapidly expanding band of scientists. 
Millar, who was destined to remain with them throughout the war, 
had arrived in his present appointment through a confusion of 
identities. After collecting a Distinguished Service Cross as a sub- 
lieutenant, fighting against the Turks at Alexandretta in the First War, 
he was unable for long to conceal the fact that he was colour-blind, 
and he had to leave the Navy. He then turned to coffee-planting in 
Kenya, but was called back in 1939 and posted to Kirkwall, where 
one day he received orders to report to the Admiralty and relieve an 
experienced Gunnery officer, Commander Sir Charles Madden. 

Madden was busy clearing up his papers when Millar reached the 

"You're talcing over as the Admiral's personal assistant," said 

"There's a mistake over this somewhere," said Millar. "Fve never 
been a Gunnery officer in my life." 

Madden, impatiently waiting to turn over to his relief and get to 
sea, looked at him in astonishment. "Why, you are G. D. - 
aren't you?" 


"No I'm F. Millar, and I don't know the first thing about 


When he repeated this to the Admiral, Somerville exploded with 
laughter. "Fine," he roared. "I know precious little myself. We'll 
make a bloody good pair !" 

As it turned out, neither Millar nor Goodeve was destined to 
serve under Admiral Somerville for long. Hardly had he told the 
new section to go ahead with their plans when the Admiral called 
Goodeve into his room one morning. 

"You'll have to get on as best you can without me," Somerville 
said. "I'm off to sea. They want me for some special job." 

"What happens after that ? Are you coming back, sir?" 

Somerville straightened up from the drawer he was emptying and 
grinned like a schoolboy. 

"If you ever see me in the Admiralty again, Goodeve, I reckon 
1*11 be a damned failure! You needn't worry. Admiral Fraser's very 
interested in what you are doing, and he'll see no one shuts down 
the department." 

In an hour the Admiral was gone. It was ten days later, on the 
evening of July a, that the Prime Minister instructed the Admiralty 
to send to the Flag Officer Commanding Force H, in the Mediter- 
ranean, the following signal: 

You are charged with one of the most disagreeable and difficult 
tasks that a British Admiral has ever been faced with, but we have 
complete confidence in you and rely on you to carry it out relent- 
lessly. 1 

The melancholy objective of Force H was Oran; its resolute com- 
mander, who was later to distinguish himself so greatly at sea in tasks 
more congenial to him, was James Somerville. The "Instigator of 
Anti-Aircraft Wheezes and Dodges," as his ghost was to be known, 
never returned to the Admiralty, but, though they had lost their 
influential sponsor, his "Wheezers and Dodgers" were now getting 
well into their stride. 

1 Sir Winston Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. II, Their Finest Hour 
(Cassell, 1 949), p. 209. 


A the days lengthened in that summer of 1940 the threat of 
invasion loomed. Strangely enough, the Germans made no 
real attempt to conceal their intentions, and, since pictures 
taken on photographic reconnaissance at a height of 30,000 feet 
were often clear enough to show cattle grazing in the fields, it was 
easy to distinguish the large new ammunition dumps at Antwerp 
and Terneuzen and the growing concentration of barges in the 
French and Belgian ports. 

On the British side of the Channel preparations were hastened 
forward to give the barges a warm reception. Second-Lieutenant 
Menhinick drilled his guns' crews with increasing fervour at Ports- 
mouth, and, after a War Office conference had decided that the 
problem of transporting and mounting scores of other naval guns 
which were lying idle presented almost insuperable difficulties in the 
time available, a man in a bowler hat called on Captain John 
gughes-Hallett at the Admiralty, announced that he came from 
Pickf ord's, the furniture-removers, and said that his firm could quite 
easily do the job over the week-end ! 

Goodeve had made it known that his team of experimentalists 
were ready to tackle anything. The main purpose of his scientific 
section was to put up ideas for new weapons and devices and see them 
through the development stage. But by showing a readiness to try 
out ideas which might be discarded by more conservative and less 
energetic departments the section would keep others on their toes. 
This often meant looking at some of the well-intentioned but wildly 
impractical technical proposals which flooded ceaselessly into many 
departments of the Admiralty. Already a man had found his way 
into Penney's room with plans for a death-ray. This, he suggested, 
could be mounted in one of the Navy's balloons, and he gave detailed 
specifications of what the operator in the basket would need in the 
way of provisions, protective clothing, and signalling devices. 

"This is all very well," said Penney, "but what about the death- 
ray apparatus?" 


"Oh, you don't want to worry about that, 9 ' replied the inventor; 

"the Admiralty have access to the Secret Archives There are 

bound to be several death-rays there, and you can take your choice." 

There were cranks who planned to rout the night bombers with 
searchlight beams which solidified at the appropriate moment; the 
aircraft was then to be belaboured with the beam until it dived to 
destruction, but the sponsors of this ingenious weapon were equally 
vague over the actual method of solidifying the searchlight rays, 
which, they claimed, was "merely a matter of research and develop- 
ment." Others submitted plans for firing thermite into the air to 
'seize up' aircraft engines, and designs for machine-guns fired by 
centrifugal force, the lightest of which, unfortunately, would have 
weighed several tons. 

Not surprisingly the invasion threat produced a rich crop of fanci- 
ful suggestions, among them a plan to electrocute the Germans as 
they waded ashore, by means of high-tension cables laid on the sea- 
bed. The protagonists of this idea overlooked the colossal amount 
of power required; the sea would have boiled before a single invader 
died of electrocution. 

Of all the less orthodox methods put forward for discouraging 
German visitors the use of flame in various forms seemed to hold 
a special fascination for naval minds. Perhaps it was an obsession 
springing subconsciously from the far-away days of Drake and his 
fire ships. At any rate the view was widely held in naval circles that 
' England will again be saved by fire,' and technical objections were 
brushed aside. 

At first the new department kept clear of the flame controversy. 
Goodeve had never been a great believer in flame for coastal or har- 
bour defence, but the Petroleum Warfare branch of the Ministry of 
Supply were both energetic and enthusiastic, and the South Coast 
became ringed by flame traps and weapons of all kinds. Eventually 
Goodeve's team were drawn into experiments with fire when some- 
one discovered that a flotilla of M.T.B.'s at Fdixstowe were anxious 
to project jets of creosote at German E-boats. 

Then two more promising proposals were put forward. A special 
weapon was needed to defend naval airfields against attacks by 
glider-borne troops, and Admiral Sir Frederick Dreyer, a famous 
gunnery officer who was organizing the training of Merchant Navy 
gun crews with characteristic vigour and foresight, suggested that a 
flame-thrower mounted on the poop of ships on the East Coast run 
might be very disconcerting to enemy dive-bomber pilots. If the 
flame-thrower was designed to fire directly upward the pilot would 
either have to abandon his line of attack or fly straight through a 
pillar of fire which might destroy him. The department therefore 


began to take an active interest in incendiarism, and flame found a 
passionate advocate in one of Goodeve's new recruits a certain 
Lieutenant Parker. 

Parker, a tall Irishman with unruly hair, had one consuming en- 
thusiasm, which he lost no time in bringing to Goodeve's notice. He 
wanted to engineer the greatest holocaust in the history of the world. 

"Do you remember the explosion at Halifax in 1917, sir?" he 
said to Goodeve one day. "If you'll let me do a little more research 
I think I could lay on something much bigger than that in one of 
the French ports and destroy every German craft in the place." 

Goodeve remembered the Nova Scotia disaster. An ammunition 
ship with 2000 tons of high explosive had blown up and caused 
terrific damage. 

"It's quite simple really," said Parker persuasively. "All we have 
to do is to get hold of an old tanker, load her with 3000 tons of oil, 
and sail her unescorted down the Channel with a skeleton crew. The 
Germans would capture her and take her into port. We would then 
send another ship, a wooden one, up Channel towards this port, 
loaded with a thousand tons of liquid oxygen " 

"Half a minute," said Goodeve. "The Germans would hardly fall 
for this twice in one day off the same port." 

"They might if the second ship is disguised as a neutral. She can 
appear to be about to enter the port, and then change her mind and 
make off. The Huns will be bound to go after her and bring her in. 
You could have time-fuses in both ships so that the crew can get 
away. If the tanker blows up first it will cover the whole harbour 
with oil. When the second ship goes up and the liquid oxygen is 
ignited by the oil you'll get the biggest explosion there's ever been. It 
would destroy the port and everything in it." 

Goodeve thought for a minute. It seemed just another wild-cat 
scheme, but it did have an awkward vestige of plausibility, which 
made him reluctant to turn it down out of hand. And Parker seemed 
so fanatically bent on the plan that he didn't want to discourage him 
too sharply. 

"How on earth do you think we're going to lay on a thousand tons 
of liquid oxygen, for a start?" he asked. 

"We could order it from British Oxygen, sir." 

Goodeve thought it highly unlikely that British Oxygen would 
have anything like that amount to spare, but he reached for the 

"I think the whole idea is impractical," he said, "but I'll ring 
them up and you can hear for yourself." 

He put in the call, expecting that British Oxygen's flat rejection 
would be audible to Parker, standing in front of his desk. To his 


astonishment, a brisk voice at the other end said, "A thousand tons? 
Certainly. Where would you like it delivered? We can get it to any 
port you name in three days." 

"I'll let you know/' said Goodeve unenthusiastically, and went to 
talk to Richardson. Discussing the plan, they had to admit that 
there might be something in it. Liquid oxygen was easy to keep in 
bulk, for it would not lose more than 2 per cent, of its efficiency for 
each day it was in the ship. " It looks as if we shall have to let Parker 
do some further tests before we shoot it down," Goodeve decided. 
"Tell him to get on to the Fuel Research people at Haslar and ask 
for facilities.' 9 

As a start Parker gained permission to stage a small-scale trial 
under the supervision of the Admiralty Fuel Research staff. He pro- 
posed to flood Haslar Creek with several tons of oil and a ton of 
liquid oxygen, and set foe to it to see what might happen an 
experiment promptly vetoed by the Commander-in-Ghief , who said 
he could not accept the risk of Portsmouth being razed to the 

After impassioned entreaties by Parker the authorities relented, 
and, not without misgivings, he was allowed to conduct a very 
small-scale experiment on condition that he used only two buckets 
of the liquid oxygen. So one morning he borrowed a dinghy, and, 
arming himself with a box of matches, some oil, and his two buckets, 
he pulled out into the centre of the creek. 

Parker was a man who liked doing things on a large scale. Now 
that the tried had been reduced to such niggling proportions he 
announced that he would not bother with any remote-control system 
for setting off the explosion. He poured the oil and oxygen over the 
side and told the apprehensive watchers ashore that he proposed to 
throw a lighted match on to the spreading pool. This came as no 
surprise to the spectators, who knew that Parker had already volun- 
teered to swim from a submarine on actual operations and ignite the 
fuel himself if there was any difficulty in starting the conflagration. 
They held their breath, but the first match fizzled out as soon as it 
hit the surface. Parker paddled a shade nearer and lit another, 
which he cast right into the centre of the pool. Instead of a 
deafening explosion, all that happened was a tiny puff of white 

When the crestfallen incendiarist returned to the Admiralty to 
report his failure he asked eagerly if he could try again with much 
larger quantities of oxygen. By then, however, Goodeve was certain 
the scheme had no chance of success. 

"If you had failed to come back we would probably have carried 
your experiment a stage further," he said jocularly. "As it is, I'm 


afraid we shall have to concentrate on other more promising methods 
of inconveniencing the enemy." 

As a means of protecting inadequately armed merchant ships and 
the shore bases of the Fleet Air Arm flame did, however, seem to have 
possibilities. The Petroleum Warfare team had already produced a 
large flame-thrower, and Norway and Lieutenant Jack Cooke, 
R.N.V.R., another newcomer destined to do much experimenting 
with explosives and strange devices in the years ahead, went to a 
small farm called Moody Down, not far from Winchester. Here the 
projectors were being developed by the Army with the technical 
assistance of research workers from the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. 

"It was a terrifying apparatus," Norway recalls. "The most effec- 
tive model was one produced by the Lagonda Car Company, which 
fired a mixture of diesel oil and tar and had a range of about a 
hundred yards. It had a flame thirty feet in diameter and used eight 
gallons of fuel a second. In later models made by other companies 
the range went up to nearly two hundred yards, with a correspond- 
ing increase in fuel consumption. When demonstrated to admirals 
and generals it usually appalled and horrified them, and they 
ordered equipments in far greater numbers than their tactical use 

The department's first task was to adopt the Lagonda flame- 
thrower for airfield defence. Airborne troops landing by glider 
require a time of about one minute after touch-down to get out with 
their equipment and open fire. In this minute they had to be des- 
troyed. Norway saw that if the flame-gun could be mounted on a 
truck with a special fuel tank it could be driven at high speed to the 
middle of the airfield, and the enemy could be enveloped in fire be- 
fore they had time to destroy the truck. Cooke went to work on the 
problem, and produced the "Cockatrice" a two-and-a-half-ton 
Bedford lorry armoured to make it invulnerable to rifle-fire. It had 
a tank holding two tons of fuel; and the flame-thrower itself, 
mounted in a turret behind the cab, could be operated by a gunner 
within the turret. 

The trials of this awe-inspiring weapon were impressive. They 
began with an informal demonstration on Basingstoke Golf Course, 
where a small tree was removed at a range of a hundred yards and 
an interested spectator from the department, standing fully thirty 
yards beyond the target, had the whole of the front of his naval 
uniform charred to an unbecoming shade of khaki. Then Cooke gave 
the Cockatrice a thorough trial in a blitzed area of East Ham, where 
the Army had a street-fighting school. 

The Cockatrice was a formidable vehicle, weighing over twelve tons, 
and took a lot of stopping when travelling at any speed. On the day 


Cooke brought it back from London by road Army manoeuvres were 
being held in the Basingstoke area, and Corporal Mitchenor, one of 
the Royal Marine team which Cooke was training, found his path 
suddenly blocked on a bend in the road by a temporary barrier. 
Quite unable to stop, he charged straight through the road block, 
whereupon the soldiers guarding the barrier opened fire. Highly 
incensed, Mitchenor trained round the turret and retaliated with a 
fierce jet of flaming oil. What with the flying debris from the barrier, 
the fusillade of shots, and the return fire from the Cockatrice they 
had an eventful few moments ! 

The seal was set on the Cockatrice's reputation when three Rus- 
sian officers arrived at Basingstoke, armed with special passes and 
permission to watch a demonstration. They made an immense fuss of 
Cooke, whom they took to be the inventor; here, they kept telling 
him exultantly, was the perfect weapon for killing "Fascist brutes" 
in large numbers ! 

With the Cockatrice a success though the need for testing it in 
action in an airborne landing happily never arose some one sug- 
gested to Norway that he should apply flame to the problem of low- 
flying aircraft. Information on enemy tactics now coining into the 
department showed that the German pilots specializing in shipping 
attacks were working to a set pattern. They would approach low over 
the water, hoping to escape detection from the ship's bridge by 
merging the 'plane with the sea, particularly at dawn or dusk. They 
would then zoom up, just clearing the masts, and drop their bombs. 
For bombing to be accurate, however, the aircraft had to pass right 
over the target. 

The first flame-thrower to go to sea looked rather like a large 
incinerator, with its round tank and long funnel protruding upward. 
It was installed on the poop of a very old French trawler called La 
Patrie, whose task it was to attend to the buoys in the swept channel 
in Spithead. As she was large and slow, and was conveniently based 
at Portsmouth, where she returned every night, she was ideal for 
experimental work. 

First of all, Norway had to find what deterrent effect the device 
was likely to have on an aircraft. Fired vertically, it seemed to the 
watchers on La Patrie's deck far more terrifying than the Cockatrice, 
for the length of the flame was increased by its own heat, and at sea 
the pillar of fire was now reaching an altitude of at least four hun- 
dred feet. The R.A.F. agreed to provide an aircraft for dummy 
attacks on the trawler, but at this stage Norway's team, much im- 
pressed with their early experiments, began to worry about the 
dangjer to the pilot. The latter was therefore brought aboard La 
Patrie, and the working of the flame-thrower was carefully explained 


to him. Norway told him to make his first dummy attack on the ship 
passing well ahead of the bow, where he would be quite safe from 
the flame; on succeeding attacks he might venture as dose as crossing 
the waist of the ship, but he was to come no nearer than that. 

The trawler then put to sea, and as the aircraft came out from 
the Hampshire coast up went the roaring column of fire. The pilot 
crossed the bow, returned, and flew over the waist of the ship; then 
he did another couple of runs much closer to the flame, until his 
wing-tip was practically passing through it. 

"He doesn't seem to think much of it," said Norway to the 
trawler's captain as the 'plane disappeared. "Still, we can't do any- 
thing in the way of modifications until we've had his report." 

The report reached Goodeve two days later. The pilot did not 
consider the device very effective as a deterrent, but he thought the 
trial had been biased by the fact that he knew exactly what to 
expect. The R.A.F. recommended that the dummy attacks should 
be repeated with a pilot who had no previous knowledge of the 
flame-gun at all; he would not even be told that the weapon incor- 
porated the use of flame. "We have complete confidence that you 
will have the flame-thrower sufficiently under control to avoid 
destroying our aircraft," the report ended. 

This seemed to Norway a very bold proposal, but two days later 
he again took his team to sea. This time the aircraft came in low 
over the water, making straight for the waist of the ship. When it 
was two hundred yards away the pillar of flame shot skyward, but 
the pilot never wavered for an instant. He came straight on across 
the ship, brushing his wing-tip in the flame. Then he circled and 
came back, this time taking half his wing through the inferno of 
burning oil. 

Much depressed at this second obvious failure, they sent a message 
inviting the pilot on board for a drink, to see whether they could get 
any line on the mystery. 

"It was a bit alarming at first sight," he said, "but I can't say I 
think it would put off a really experienced chap who was determined 
to sink the ship." 

"You don't think it's worth going on with it?" some one asked. 

"Oh, I don't say that ... but it might be fairer to try it out on 
some one else. I've had a bit of experience of this sort of thing." 

"How do you mean?" asked Norway. "What were you doing pre- 

The Flight-Lieutenant looked slightly embarrassed. 

"As a matter of fact, I had an odd sort of job Used to drive 

Dodge cars through sheets of plate-glass and walls of fire for a stunt 
firm," he said sheepishly. 


Norway's team went back a little happier about the flame-thrower's 
prospects. They had no doubt that the R.A.F. had picked their man 
for that demonstration, and it came as a shock to them to learn, a 
few days later, of the death of the flight-lieutenant who had seemed 
so unconcerned by danger, flying in thick weather, he had hit a 
barrage balloon cable. 

As it was felt that the Luftwaffe were unlikely to have many pilots 
with circus experience, the naval flame-thrower went into limited 
production, and a number of them were mounted in coasters plying 
between the Thames and the Forth. They were difficult to keep in 
order, as a very high pressure had to be maintained. And unless the 
device was expertly handled the ship and her crew were liable to be 
smothered in tar and oil. Intelligence sources, however, reported one 
dividend. News of the mysterious new weapon on the poop of some 
British ships soon got back to Germany, and, whether or not it was 
cause and effect, the average height of attack soon lifted far above 
two hundred feet the level at which the enemy aircraft had hitherto 
been securing 47 per cent. hits. 

Intelligence also revealed that the enemy were having their own 
setbacks with flame-projectors, and after a very discouraging experi- 
ence at Le Havre they were believed to have abandoned the struggle. 
Their own experimental vessel had a long pipe and nozzle running 
up the mast. On the day they had chosen to demonstrate the device 
to an impressive array of high-ranking officers in the French port the 
ship was moved into the centre of the basin for safety. Nevertheless, 
when the firing key was pressed the entire assembly ashore was 
deluged with torrents of thick black oil, and no ignition took place 
at all. Cooke, who had more than once caused similar consternation 
on board a Methil-bound coaster, was particularly delighted with 
this report. 

The department was destined to have only one further encounter 
with flame weapons. This came much later in the war, when 
advanced anti-aircraft guns had long removed the need for flame- 
throwers at sea, and no invasion of Britain was likely to call the 
Cockatrice into action. 

Studying a forthcoming operation, Combined e Ops' H.Q. were 
anxious to find out whether an assault landing-craft entering a har- 
bour loaded with infantry could safely pass through the fire of any 
flame-thrower which might be mounted on the breakwater. To 
Goodeve's department came an inquiry about the form of canopy 
which would be needed to cover the well of the craft. 

Norway said flatly that no protection at all was needed. He ex- 
plained the difficulty of firing a flame-thrower (with its horizontal 
trajectory, or, if anything, slight upward curve) at an angle of 

L. H. M. LANE, R.N.V.R. 

Lane was one of the founder members of 

the department and an intrepid handler 

of explosives. 





With him is his Chief of Staff. 

Captain M. J. W. William-Powlett. 

Imperial War Museum 







Earlier Holman guns were operated 
by compressed air. 


depression. And he maintained that if the soldiers lay down in the 
boat they would be safe. 

THLs view was hotly challenged by the Petroleum Warfare branch, 
who said that the Admiralty did not know what they were talking 
about, and trials were therefore arranged at Portland, where a large 
flame-thrower commanded the harbour entrance. 

The master of ceremonies at these trials was Robin Byng, 1 a 
stockily built R.N.V.R. lieutenant who had played a prominent part 
in developing many weapons and devices for the department. Before 
the war Byng had owned a Brixham trawler, the Arthur Rogers, and 
he spent the summer of 1939 in her as a member of Dr Edward Bui- 
lard's team investigating the Atlantic Shelf. Later, as a civilian, he 
joined Bullard at H.M.S. Vernon to work on the magnetic and 
acoustic mines, and then, by a masterpiece of bluff (for he had had 
to leave the Royal Navy many years before owing to weak eyesight), 
he got himself passed Ai by a Service doctor who failed to notice his 
contact lenses ! To his delight, he was now back in uniform. 

For the trial at Portland he procured an old landing-craft, and 
arranged for it to be towed through the harbour entrance, where the 
flame-thrower was to fire at it. In the bottom of the craft he placed 
three dummies, dad in battledress one at the bow, one amidships, 
and one at the stern. Inside the battledress of each dummy he put 
strips of paper coated with greenish-yellow anti-gas detecting paint, 
which changes colour if heated to the temperature at which skin is 

Admirals and generals turned up in force to watch the trial, and 
after the landing-craft had passed through the flame Byng extracted 
the papers from the tunics of the dummies. Not one showed the 

The Petroleum Warfare observers protested that the flame- 
thrower had not been aimed quite right. Again the landing-craft was 
towed through the wall of fire without any effect at all, and after 
several more abortive attempts the trials were called off for the day. 

Slightly nonplussed, the critics from the Ministry of Supply then 
conceded that the men might escape the direct effects of the flame, 
but claimed that they would all have been killed in any case. The 
well of the boat would, they said, have been filled with the hot pro- 
"ducts of combustion, and the men would have died from breathing 
carbon dioxide. It was therefore decided to repeat the trials using 
cages of animals in the boat, and Byng, who had returned to London 
to report developments, was told to procure fourteen mice. 

Finding mice in the West End of London proved surprisingly diffi- 
cult. There seemed to be no recognized Admiralty procedure for 
1 Now Earl of Strafford. 


indenting for them from Naval Stores, and when he suggested that 
he might buy some mice in the open market Richardson said, "Yes, 
but have you got a Mouse Licence? " 

"No," said Byng. 

" Well, then," said Richardson discouragingly, "no one's likely to 
sell you any mice. You'll have to get a permit. Mice can only be used 
according to regulations laid down by the Medical Research Coun- 

This opened up a promising line of attack, and Byng eventually 
arrived at the Gloucester Hotel, Weymouth, with his fourteen mice 
and several cages. Next morning he took six of the mice, distributed 
them among three cages, and placed them in the landing-craft. Once 
more, before a large gathering of senior officers, the boat was towed 
through the fiery furnace. The mice showed no ill effects whatever. 
Several times that day the trial was repeated. The topsides of the 
assault landing-craft became scorched and blistered, but when the 
proceedings were called off the mice were still completely unharmed. 

Feeling that the department had proved their point, Byng re- 
turned to his hotel with the six mice, only to find that of the eight left 
in his bedroom one had died. In his opinion this was clear proof that 
the apprehension excited by the flame-thrower was more lethal than 
the flame-thrower itself a conclusion which the department had 
great pleasure in incorporating in their official Admiralty report! 

The troubles of Lieutenant Byng were not, however, quite over. 
He had to return to London early next morning and he still had 
thirteen mice on his hands. Late that night he made a cautious 
reconnaissance of the corridors. And under the door of every bed- 
room which had a pair of lady's shoes outside it he liberated one 


Br the late summer of 1940 the Wheezers and Dodgers had 
expanded their activities and their numbers. To the relief of 
the sorely tried Kite Balloon party, they moved into a large 
room overlooking Trafalgar Square, where they acquired a valued 
counsellor in Admiralty procedure a cheerful and imperturbable 
Civil Servant named Jamieson; several more recruits from King 
Alfred; and a shorthand typist with golden-red hair named Miss 
Ottley. As sixteen people were now working in the one room, she 
had to do all her typing in the passage outside ! 

To every new recruit Goodeve said much the same thing: "You'll 
have no set hours and no official leave. You will often be required to 
work all night as well as all day and seven days a week if necessary. 
You'll see many secret documents. Don't talk about what you see." 

Many of the early recruits had a faintly piratical air about them. 
One had been a skipper of a South Sea island schooner; another, 
who had an impressive red beard, had flown aircraft for the Chinese 
Republican forces. Currie arrived, protesting, like Norway, that he 
had joined up to go to sea. Goodeve set him to work on camouflage 
problems, for he had found, to his astonishment, that in spite of the 
increasing threat of German air power no serious attention had been 
paid to camouflage in the Navy since the First World War. Two 
Staff Divisions in the Admiralty had already been pressing for the 
camouflage situation to be examined when Goodeve agreed to look 
into it, but his intervention led to a surprising incident. Into the 
department stamped an irate officer who introduced himself as 
Commander Pouter. Marching up to Goodeve, he said angrily, 
"What's this I hear about your section meddling with camouflage?" 

"We're looking into it to see what can be done to make our ships 
less visible," said Goodeve. "The absence of any form of camou- 
flage is presumably due to the failure, under modern conditions, of 
the dazzle painting of the Kaiser's war. If no one studies these new 
conditions nothing will ever get done " 

"I'll have you know that I am entirely responsible for all Admi- 


ralty policy regarding camouflage/ 5 said the Commander, "and that 
policy is that there shall be no camouflage . . . and no experiments 

It took Goodeve a few seconds to recover from this. As he got up 
to open the door for his visitor he turned to Richardson and Currie. 

-"Our way is now perfectly clear. You're to go straight ahead with 
the experiments." 

To Commander Pouter he said, a little brusquely, "Our report 
will go to the First Sea Lord. If you wish I will send you a copy." 

This classic interview led to the coining in the department of a 
new term of measurement the Unit of Obstruction. This unit first 
became known as the 'Pouter.' On further reflection, however, .this 
seemed altogether too large to have any application inside the 
Admiralty, where obstruction, it was fervently hoped, would rarely 
reach such dimensions. So the term 'micro-pouter 5 was introduced 
forthwith. From that day it was used to assess all such absurdities. 
Happily for the war effort, they proved to be rare. 

Aiding the Merchant Navy was Goodeve's most urgent task, for 
the defence of merchant ships was an Admiralty responsibility. 
Efficient camouflage might obviously help to hide convoys from the 
searching aircraft, particularly during the danger periods at dawn 
and dusk. So Currie was sent off on a series of reconnaissance flights 
from Oban to examine the appearance of ships in different light con- 
ditions. From his reports a standard shade of light grey paint was 
evolved for the side and top colouring of merchant ships. 

Passive measures like camouflage, however, only touched the 
fringe of the problem. The crying need was for more weapons and 
some form of physical protection for the men who had to face a hail 
of cannon-gun fire on an open bridge whenever an aircraft attacked 
them. Before Dunkirk the sole armament of some ships was a Ross 
rifle; the only organized defence came from a shuttle service of 120 
Lewis guns moved from ship to ship, and not until March 1941 was 
it possible to give each vessel even one machine-gun of her own. 

As for protection against enemy fire, armour-plating was out of 
the question; because of the nearness to the compass it had to be of 
the non-magnetic type, and there was none of this to spare in the 
country. The only substitute was a structure of concrete blocks built 
round the bridge. These had presumably been sanctioned on the 
principle that some sort of shield against gunfire was better than 
none at all, but the concrete slabs were proving more dangerous than 
protective. They cracked and splintered. Often the entire structure 
would collapse, and once the bridge was out of action the ship was 
at the mercy of the bombers. 

It was Lane who came upon the first slender due. Lane was not 


a scientist, but he had a passion for things mechanical, an alert, 
inquiring mind, and great tenacity. When he first arrived in the 
department, Goodeve put him on to help Terrell with the analysis of 
Intelligence reports, and one morning, reading through an account 
of an air attack on a ship at Dunkirk, he came across a marginal note 
which intrigued him. 

"I noticed that whenever machine-gun bullets struck the deck 
there were no ricochets," wrote the commanding officer. "The sur- 
face of the deck is covered with a cork-filled mastic substance to aid 

Lane read this again, and took it over to Terrell. 

"Do you think this is worth following up, sir?" he asked. "If the 
makers could produce thick slabs of this stuff it might give some sort 
of protection to ships' bridges and gun positions." 

"Check on the makers and give them a ring," said Terrell. "It 
might be a good idea if I went and had a talk with them." 

After that things moved fast. Lane found that the mastic a 
bituminous cement rather like asphalt was made by a London firm. 
Terrell interviewed them with Lane at the Admiralty, and he 
ordered four sample slabs, and on August 17, a sunny Saturday 
afternoon, when the Battle of Britain raged over Southern England, 
Terrell took a revolver and the four targets down to the Road Re- 
search Laboratories at Colnbrook. Setting them up on the range near 
the Laboratories, he fired at them, first with the revolver and then 
with special armour-piercing bullets. The trial was a hopeless failure. 
All the rounds went straight through the slabs. 

Dr Glanville, head of the Laboratories, was watching. 

"I'm sure this mastic stuff has possibilities," said Terrell as they 
re-examined the targets, "but we must find some way of strengthen- 
ing it I've got it we want two different layers for the bullet to 

penetrate. If we put a thfo steel plate at the back of the slab that 
might do the trick." 

They tried again with the same mastic dabs and a backing-plate. 
This time there was a slight, but quite definite, improvement. Greatly 
elated, he rang up Goodeve and told him what he had done. 

"We've got the answer. If we order another lot of samples we can 
get them to mix in different types of stone instead of this cork filling. 
I'll get some one from the makers to come in to the Admiralty to- 
morrow; if he takes the specifications back with him we should be 
ready for another trial in forty-eight hours." 

"You're an optimist," said Goodeve; "to-morrow's Sunday." 

"They won't mind," said Terrell. "They're as keen on this as we 

At the meeting in the Admiralty that Sunday afternoon Terrell 


had another idea. He had once been briefed to appear in a lawsuit 
for a Cornish quarrying company, and he recalled some figures 
showing the tremendous crushing strength of Penlee granite. 

"Can you make me one extra sample this time?" he said. "In the 
fifth slab I'd like you to mix some Penlee granite chippings in with 
your mastic stuff ." 

When the trial was held two days later it was the fifth sample 
which showed spectacular results. Several armour-piercing rounds 
barely reached the steel backing-plate. 

Terrell was certain now that the department was on the brink of 
its first major success. All that remained was to discover, by trial and 
error, an exact formula. He had to find the right size of granite chips ; 
the right proportion for mixing the granite with the mastic; and they 
must ensure that the new armour would stand up to heat. The ships 
which fitted it might need its protection in the Red Sea just as much 
as in the North Atlantic. 

The following morning he went to see Captain R. P. Selby, a 
senior officer of Trade Division, in the Admiralty. Trade Division 
looked after the convoys. It was their responsibility to find and fit 
what guns were available, and train the Merchant Navy gunners. 

"Would you be interested in a new type of armour, sir?" he asked. 

Selby stared at Terrell as if he was some kind of magician. 

"Look at these," he said, pointing to a pile of papers on his desk. 
"All of them are complaints about the protection we've installed up 
to date. This concrete is splintering and causing heavy casualties. If 
you've got anything as an alternative it will be a godsend." 

"We've discovered an alternative all right," said Terrell. "We're 
thinking of calling it Plastic Armour, and we're giving it another trial 
in four days* time. Already we know it won't splinter, and it will stop 
A.P. bullets. Would Trade Division like to see it tested?" 

"I'll send one of my chaps along," said Selby. "I only hope it's as 
good as you say it is." 

So far all had been plain sailing. With Trade Division interested, 
thought Terrell, there should be no difficulty in speeding develop- 
ment of the armour if it stood up to its next tests, and he was already 
wondering how the new department could tadde the problems of 
mass production when he got a message from Lane. 

"Goodeve wants you to join him in Bath straight away," said 
Lane, when Terrell got back to the room where they worked. "I 
think there's going to be some trouble with D.N.C. over our 

Trouble there certainly was. D.N.C. was the Department of Naval 
Construction one of a number of Admiralty bodies evacuated to 
Bath. Goodeve knew that before the new protection could be for- 


mally tested and adopted by the Navy it would have to be approved 
by D.N.C. as the Admiralty organization officially responsible for all 
matters connected with armour. And the frigid atmosphere at the 
meeting that afternoon made it plain that D.N.G. did not welcome 
this encroachment on their territory. Unchallenged since the days of 
the Dreadnought, they were a conservative body, and they viewed 
the intervention of this newly formed research section with undis- 
guised suspicion. 

Goodeve explained how his team, directed by Admiral Somerville 
to investigate anti-aircraft problems, had discovered the possibilities 
of the new armour. Then Terrell described the successful tests 
already made. 

"We feel that things have now reached the stage where you may 
wish to take over Plastic Armour and conduct firing trials of your 
own," said Goodeve. 

"As far as we are concerned there will be no firing trials," said 
one of the men at the conference table. "It is not necessary to try 
this so-called 'armour' of yours. There's nothing new in it. I have 
had thirty years' experience in this subject, and I know it cannot be 
any good." 

On this uncompromising note the meeting ended. Although 
D.N.C. had refused point-blank to co-operate in any way, their 
attitude as in the case of camouflage at least gave Terrell a free 
hand to carry on his own investigations. Working day and night, 
Terrell and the Road Research Laboratory staff soon produced the 
new samples, further strengthened by specially screened chippings of 
granite from the Penlee quarries in Cornwall. By the end of the week 
Plastic Armour had emerged triumphantly from another, stiff er test 
on the range, and the critical observers from Trade Division reported 
enthusiastically to Captain Selby. 

With a success on his hands Goodeve was now in a quandary. 
Terrell's energetic researches had produced a revolutionary discovery, 
but it was equally obvious that Plastic Armour would be stillborn 
unless a way could be found to force D.N.C.'s hand. The opportunity 
came when H.M.S. Excellent, the gunnery establishment at Ports- 
mouth, heard about the new armour and offered to let their experts 
test it. 

At Whale Island, the home of naval gunnery, they subjected the 
tough black slabs of granite-filled mastic to the most exhaustive trials 
they could devise. 

"Shall we start with reduced charges?" said Lieutenant-Com- 
mander Smith, in charge of the firing party. 

"No . . . that won't be necessary," said Terrell. "I think it will 
stand up to anything you can do to it." 


And it did. From varying angles and distances they fired round 
after round at it, and the hard cores of the bullets broke up in the 
mastic. In one series of eleven rounds ten never even made a bulge 
in the steel backing-plate. After trying in vain to ignite the armour 
with blow-lamps as a final experiment to test its resistance to fire 
H.M.S. Excellent reported in glowing terms: 

There is no doubt that Plastic Armour is very greatly superior to 
any other non-magnetic material, excluding non-magnetic bullet- 
proof steel, so far tried ... it is most strongly recommended that the 
fitting of concrete protection should be discontinued and Plastic 
Armour fitted in its place. 

As soon as the trials at H.M.S. Excellent were over Goodeve raised 
the whole matter officially in a docket to D.N.C., with a report of 
the trials as supporting evidence. The docket asked D.N.C. for their 
official approval of Plastic Armour so that action in fitting could 

Back came the docket with a strongly worded minute denouncing 
the project as a waste of time. 

It was a strange and disturbing impasse at a time when war was 
raging at sea and in the air, and the situation became even more 
farcical when H.M.S. Excellent'* report was circulated almost im- 
mediately by the Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth, to many 
Admiralty departments, praising Plastic Armour and stressing the 
urgency of adopting it. Goodeve's only desire was to get the armour 
into service. He realized that D.N.C.'s minute made it doubly diffi- 
cult for the latter department to change their attitude, so the whole 
docket was destroyed and D.N.C. were informed of this. After allow- 
ing a few days to elapse Goodeve sent to Bath a fresh docket in 
almost identical words. 

By now, however, Plastic Armour was arousing much interest and 
curiosity in the Admiralty, and Terrell put some some slabs of it on 
display in the department for a party of very senior officers among 
them the First Sea Lord to inspect after lunch one day. 

Examining it while Terrell was at lunch, Norway made the 
entertaining discovery that it was quite possible to insert a drawing- 
pin in the armour plate between the granite chippings. 

When the V.I.P.'s arrived the largest slab had pinned to it a 
printed card bearing the startling legend: 


Goodeve's conciliatory gesture to the inflexible opponents of 
Plastic Armour at Bath inspired no change of heart. Ignoring the 


merits of the new protection, they denounced H.M.S. Excellent for 
carrying out trials on anything armoured which had not come from 
D.N.C.'s department itself . A few days later the controversy took an 
even stranger turn when an official who had played the leading part 
in obstructing the trials announced that he would be prepared to 
withdraw his opposition to the use of the material if the word 
'Armour' was dropped. 

There could now be no doubt whatever as to the reason under- 
lying the obstruction, and Terrell referred the issue to Captain 
Selby, who firmly rejected the suggestion. He knew the title would 
give confidence to merchant seamen, who were often mistrustful 
of innovations; he knew also that H.M.S. Excellent* s report 
had brought him powerful enough backing from other quarters 
in the Admiralty to defeat any further attempts to kill the new 

With keen support from Captain Sdby and Trade Division 
Terrell went ahead. Road-manufacturing firms with plant lying 
idle were recruited to mass-produce the armour. Factories were set 
up, and at many ports special plant installed in the open enabled 
ships to be fitted with the protection as soon as they came in. 

Within a year the success story of Terrell's Plastic Armour could 
be charted in impressive statistics. It was made in nearly every sea- 
port in the United States, after one of Goodeve's team, Lieutenant- 
Commander A. H. Laurie, R.N.V.R., had enterprisingly enlisted 
the aid of the New York Police Department's Homicide Section to 
experiment with different types of quartz on their range at Hakensack, 
New Jersey. And U.S. Navy Department statisticians worked 
out that the new protection saved over 44,000,000 dollars' worth 
of special steel alone. In Egypt Plastic Armour was made, not 
with granite or quartz, but with porphyry hard purple rock hewn 
from quarries which had yielded stone for the tombs of the 

From Plastic Armour an even tougher protection was developed. 
And since some one, with tact born of bitter experience, chose for 
it the name of Plastic Protective Plating, peace was made at last with 
D.N.C. ! Most of the landing-craft which took part in the invasion 
were armoured with the plating. In all some 10,000 ships were fitted 
with Plastic Armour before the war ended. 

Terrell, whose energy and persistence drove the project to success, 
stayed with the new department until the production of the armour 
was in full swing. Later, in another post, he did outstanding work in 
U-boat warfare problems and produced a rocket-accelerated bomb 
for attacking the vast enemy submarine pens. To-day exhibits of 
Plastic Armour in the Imperial War Museum record the depart- 


ment's first triumph, and Terrell's part in it was marked by an 
award to him of nearly 10,000 when the Royal Commission came 
to assess the value of war-time inventions. 

In the big, gloomy room in Archway Block North there were 
many other projects afoot. The Department was still small enough 
for Goodeve to have a detailed knowledge of everybody's work. And 
as Lane, analysing interrogation reports and garnering a flow of 
useful information on enemy air tactics from other mysterious 
sources he would only hint at, drew attention to specific trends in 
the German offensive against our ships, Goodeve directed research to 
counter them. 

Richardson was already working on improved methods of light- 
ing the night sky so that guns could be aimed with reasonable accu- 
racy. There were conferences on night camouflage and the develop- 
ment of rocket-propelled wire devices; and Lane was urging the 
importance of producing a workable acoustic warning equipment. 
He maintained that it should have a special direction-finding gadget 
incorporated so that guns could be trained more rapidly. 

"Pm not convinced that you need this directional aid," said 
Goodeve. "After all, the acoustic warning itself will get the guns 
manned, and your ears will give you the direction in ten to thirty 
seconds after that. Anyway, a directional acoustic would be a com- 
plicated affair." 

This was typical of his common-sense approach. Goodeve was all 
for cutting out the frills on the various projects they were examining. 
It gave the department more chance of rapid progress. 

The Acoustic Warning Device was an early brain-child of Nor- 
way's. Without radar the merchant ships were at the mercy of air- 
craft when cloud covered the sky. The first warning they had was 
the swoop of the 'plane from the grey ceiling above the ship and 
the whistle of the bombs. 

Thinking this problem over, Norway wondered if it was possible 
to put a device on the masthead which would react to the sound 
frequencies generated by an aircraft. Working with Sir Dennistoun 
Burney on the gliding torpedo, he had paid several visits to the 
research department of a large gramophone company at Hayes, and 
what he had learnt about acoustic problems there made him certain 
that something of the sort could be designed. 

A search through D.S.R.'s files gave little encouragement. He 
found reports of extensive trials carried out in the past on board 
ships with Army listening devices. They had been a failure. Next 
Norway went to talk to the men who did research into all sound 
problems for the Services at an establishment in the New Forest; he 


also revisited his friends at Hayes, and soon experiments evolved an 
apparatus consisting of twin microphones ingeniously arranged to 
give a heart-shaped lobe of sensitivity. This helped to screen noises 
from the ship itself, but if an aircraft came within a range of two 
miles the listening microphones would pick it up. Immediately a 
warning bell would ring, and a red light would flash on the bridge. 

To speed development of the device LA.A.W. & D. took on 
another newcomer, Lieutenant Arthur Biddell, R.N.V.R., who had 
specialized in sound research for some years before the war. Biddell 
was no stranger to the sea. He had started his working life as a radio 
operator in ships of the Royal Mail Line, and soon after joining the 
Admiralty he found himself afloat again in an old Channel Islands 
passenger boat off the Firth of Forth, where the warning apparatus 
was given its trials. The first snag cropped up with the discovery 
that they would need some form of outer covering to shield the sensi- 
tive microphones from the sound of the wind a teasing problem, 
for they would obviously have to find a material which did not 
blanket off the aircraft noises as well. 

This led to one of the department's most unusual quests, and 
England was combed for bathroom loofahs. Like Byng's mice, it 
was difficult to find enough of them, and in the end 10,000 had to 
be shipped from abroad. Later on the loofah scarcity prompted fur- 
ther researches, and an even better substitute was discovered in the 
stuffing of ordinary domestic mattresses ! 

Biddell now set to work to filter out a variety of other irrelevant 
noises. In spite of the clever design of the microphones the early 
models tried at sea proved distinctly fallible. Masters of ships sail- 
ing down the Thames Estuary claimed that they always got an 'air- 
craft' warning from the trams on Southend Pier. Heavy bow waves, 
and even particularly raucous seagulls, also alerted the device, but 
gradually Norway and Biddell improved the equipment to such an 
extent that it would automatically filter out all noises lasting less than 
four seconds. This rid them of their greatest difficulty, for in the 
early stages any very loud, sharp noise on board, such as a hatch- 
cover being slammed down, was liable to set the alarm going, and 
the men on the bridge would frantically scan the sky for approach- 
ing bombers. 

The device had one lasting drawback. It reacted just as violently 
whether an aircraft was friendly or hostile. On the high seas, how- 
ever, where friendly 'planes were few and far between, it soon proved 
its value, and on one occasion, when a convoy was steaming slowly 
across the Atlantic in thick fog, the warning bell in a ship straggling 
astern rang all the afternoon. The microphones had unerringly 
picked up the engines of a U-boat stalking them on the surface. 


The listening ear was fitted to the masthead of many hundred 
merchant ships, and it did much to relieve the nervous strain of 
hard-pressed watch-keeping sailors. It also allowed guns' crews to 
rest safe in the thought that they could man their guns in time after 
the warning sounded. Later, in the larger ships, the task of the 
Acoustic Warning Device was taken over by radar, but this, inci- 
dentally, was to encounter its own special problems over filtering out 
the inappropriate. At Dover in the following year radar operators got 
some most convincing echoes from gannets; at Gibraltar a 'large 
force of unidentified aircraft' detected at 5000 feet proved to be guBs 
wheeling over a passing ship; and a supicious object 'reconnoitring' 
Malta turned out to be nothing more hostile than a migrating stork I 1 

While passive-defence measures like the development of Plastic 
Armour and the Warning Device were occupying some of Goodeve's 
team others were examining all manner of strange projects put up 
to the department. 

The weapon shortage, highlighted by Lord Croft's clarion call to 
arm the Home Guard with pikes, even induced Currie to experiment 
with a monster catapult in a wood above Honiton, and in turn the 
department investigated the possibilities of a Dazzle Gun for blind- 
ing enemy pilots; a "Galvanized Scatter Gun" for destroying air- 
craft by delayed action of chemicals; and a high-pressure Water 
Gun. There was also a more innocuous apparatus called the "Dazzle 
Flash." This elaborate contraption of mirrors and flash-bulbs was 
designed to frighten enemy bomber crews by giving an impression 
that an area was more heavily defended than it really was. Although 
never brought into service in air attacks it was used by Royal Marine 
port-defence parties at Dover to simulate cross-Channel bombard- 

The Dazzle Gun, on which Terrell worked with his usual 
energy, acted on the same principle. It consisted of six gigantic 
flash-bulbs, mounted on a spindle which could be rotated by a 
trigger device. Behind the bulbs was a great curved mirror of metal, 
and it was thought that if by this means a sudden, searing blaze of 
light could be focused on a pilot coming in for a low-level attack it 
might temporarily blind him and spoil his aim. 

The whole project involved a great deal of painstaking research, 
mostly carried out in the laboratories of the General Electric Com- 
pany at Wembley. Special types of flash-lamp were evolved, and 
testing them in a darkened corridor of the laboratories produced 
unexpected hazards. The bulbs were liable to explode, showering 
glass over the assembled scientists and setting light to the heavy velvet 
curtains which surrounded the 6 gun.' More than once the G.E.C. 

1 See Science at War. 


staff 3 creeping round the district at night to carry out illumination 
tests, were pounced on by the local police. 

Eventually they rigged up a model ship, armed with the proto- 
type Dazzle Gun, in the biggest room in the laboratories, and to 
simulate the attacking aircraft they procured a canteen tea-trolley. 
Terrell, who always liked to try things out for himself, spent most of 
one eventful afternoon lying prone on this while he was propelled 
violently down the laboratory floor and the Dazzle Gun flashed on 
and off at him. 

The results were highly promising, but the experts were not yet 
satisfied. An additional mirror was introduced, and a rapid reload- 
ing gear was designed. This stepped up the rate of 'fire' to four 
flashes in each mirror at short intervals. 

After checking calculations of the illumination through civil, 
nautical, and astronomical twilight, and measuring the reflection 
properties of ruffled water on a near-by canal, they took the Dazzle 
Gun to Worthy Down one day at the end of September for its first 
full-scale trials. 

To Gurrie, diving from the night sky towards the darkened air- 
field, the Dazzle Gun's debut was distinctly unimpressive. All they 
saw from the aircraft was a flicker of light as though some one had 
lit a large match. So further experiments were made, and then the 
'gun' was taken to sea in a Channel convoy. 

There it was not long before Currie discovered that the success of 
this strange weapon depended on two irreconcilable factors. If the 
Dazzle Gun was to achieve any real effect it had to be aimed ex- 
tremely accurately at the approaching target, like a rifle. But since 
the operators of the contraption could not see to use their sights after 
dark the trials afloat ended in stalemate. Two Dazzle Guns were, in 
fact, manufactured for operational use, but they languished in a 
naval store until some one cast them on the scrap-heap. 

This was a borderline project. Some of the knowledge gained was 
to prove useful in other, later experiments, but the department were 
not sorry to see the end of the Dazzle Gun. Goodeve was a shrewd 
psychologist. Once he had seen the unwieldy nature of the appara- 
tus he knew that the sailor would never take kindly to a piece of 
equipment the size of a small mizzen sail which had to be strapped 
to the shoulders of any unfortunate operator and then fired nothing 
more lethal than rays of light! Still, the basic idea had been worth 


WHEN it became known that Admiral Somerville was not 
returning to the Admiralty his Research and Development 
Section gained a new temporary parent. The Signals Divi- 
sion relinquished their authority, and the Wheezers and Dodgers 
moved under the wing of D.T.S.D. the Director of Training and 
Staff Duties. It was through one of the D.T.S.D.'s staff, Commander 
Stephen Roskill, that Goodeve became involved with the Oerlikon 

The story of the Navy's connexion with the Oerlikon had its be- 
ginnings several years before the war. In the late twenties study of 
anti-aircraft defence problems in the Admiralty led to the develop- 
ment of two specialized weapons a 2-pounder gun with an eight- 
barrelled mounting which was to become known as the "Chicago 
Piano," and another gun with four barrels, made by Vickers. 

Both had very definite drawbacks. The Chicago Piano was large, 
heavy, and expensive to build, and its range was relatively short. 
The Vickers gun also had a limited range, and since it fired shot of 
very light weight it was unlikely to cause much damage to an air- 
craft unless it hit a vital spot. In addition to these two weapons a 
development contract was placed in 1933 for a 4-inch twin mounting 
gun; but, although about a thousand eventually went into service, 
they too were large and heavy affairs, and they were not suitable for 
all classes of warship. 

This latter gun did not come into service until 1937. By then it 
was alarmingly certain that if war broke out in the near future the 
Royal Navy would start at a serious disadvantage against any adver- 
sary with a powerful air arm. 

One of the few naval officers to foresee clearly the danger from 
the air was Lord Louis Mountbatten. In January 1937 he was serv- 
ing as a commander in the Naval Air Division of the Admiralty 
when an Austrian named Antoine Gazda was brought to see him. 

Gazda produced the plans of a remarkable new weapon designed 
for use against dive-bombers. It had a very high rate of fire, spewing 


out cannon shells at 450 to the minute from its single barrel. This 
was the Oerlikon, and behind its development in a factory in Zurich 
lay an interesting story. 

There had been an Oerlikon engineering firm in Zurich since 
1876, but after a spell of great prosperity in the First World War 
business had slumped in the early twenties. In the autumn of 1923 
control passed into the hands of a machine-tool company in Magde- 
burg, who sent one of their executives, an energetic young man 
named Buhrle, to take charge of the Zurich plant. 

Buhrle quickly saw that the Oerlikon business would never recover 
its prosperity if its activities were restricted to building machine tools 
alone. Casting about for new outlets, he discovered that in Seebach, 
a neighbouring suburb, was an armament firm which had fallen on 
evil days. It had been making 2-cm. guns for the Germans, who were 
forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles to build armaments in their 
own country, but eventually subsidies had dwindled, and with the 
death of the manager the fortunes of the undertaking declined rapidly. 

Buhrle suggested to his employers that they should take over this 
additional factory, together with the patents, designs, and manufac- 
turing rights of the Seemag gun made there. By 1 932 Oerlikon's new 
staff of designers and constructors had evolved the most up-to-date 
2-cm. gun in the world. 

It attracted wide attention, and after Lithuania had placed an 
order others quickly followed from Germany, Japan, and Yugo- 

One evening in 1935 Buhrle was dining in a Zurich restaurant, 
when a friend introduced him to Antoine Gazda, an Austrian who 
had been trained in Vienna as a mechanical engineer and was now 
working in Paris. Gazda mentioned that he was on his way to Japan, 
where he had many influential contacts, and Buhrle suggested that 
he should join forces there with the Oerlikon agents in that country, 
Mitsubishi. As a result the Oerlikon gained a large order from the 
Japanese Government for wing guns for aircraft. 

On his return from this successful mission Gazda was sent to 
England to offer the gun to the British Government. He took with 
him an impressive film of the Oerlikon in action, and as soon as Lord 
Louis saw this he realized that here was the very weapon which the 
Royal Navy so desperately needed. 

Within a week he had arranged for Gazda to lecture and show 
the film to a number of senior officers, including members of the 
Board of Admiralty, but when the day arrived Gazda found, to his 
dismay, that he had completely lost his voice. The situation was 
saved by Mountbatten, who gave a masterly running commentary 
on the film. In that short time he had studied the technicalities of 


the gun so thoroughly that even the problem of transposing all the 
figures in Gazda's notes from metres and millimetres into feet and 
inches came easily to him. 

The lecture was a tour de force, but it produced no immediate 
results, and Mountbatten soon discovered that opinion was strongly 
ranged against any move to adopt the new gun. Possibly the naval 
ordnance authorities were loath to act because they had staked their 
reputations on the existing anti-aircraft weapons, and shrank from 
the inevitable dislocation and expense of introducing a radically dif- 
ferent alternative. Certainly they could, and did, raise the technical 
objection that at least one feature of its design ran counter to the 
Navy's strict safety precautions the Oerlikon breech did not lock 
and seal before firing. At any rate, the Oerlikon was not looked upon 
with favour, and all through 1937 and 1938 Lord Louis waged a 
lone campaign to secure an unprejudiced trial for the revolutionary 
new anti-aircraft cannon. 

There were endless conferences, repeated demonstrations of the 
gun at naval proving grounds, and the unfortunate Gazda was sum- 
moned to no fewer than 238 meetings with Admiralty officials. 

To Mountbatten, with his passionate interest in technical progress, 
this apparent obstruction of a weapon which would increase the 
fighting efficiency of the Fleet was incomprehensible and distressing. 
His courageous campaign brought him no popularity with the 
powers that be, and his opponents even put about ugly rumours that 
he had a financial interest in pushing the Oerlikon. Although his 
identity undoubtedly gave him more influence than others of his 
rank, many officers in similar circumstances would have shrugged 
their shoulders and done no more about the matter when they found 
opposition so obdurately aligned against them. 

Not so Mountbatten. In a bid to force the hand of the Navy's 
ordnance advisers he got an Oerlikon fitted to a new type of M.T.B. 
undergoing trials at Portsmouth, and an officer from Whale Island, 
where the gun had already been under the microscope, came aboard 
to give it a further test. But it was not until Admiral Sir Roger Back- 
house, the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, came to dine one 
evening with Mountbatten at his penthouse in Park Lane that the 
Oerlikon found a powerful and determined champion in high places. 

Admiral Backhouse, a gunnery officer himself, was quick to see 
the importance of the new cannon, and when he became First Sea 
Lord the claims of the Oerlikon at last began to receive pressing 
attention. In 1939 a contract was placed for 1500 of the guns from 
Switzerland, but so much delay had occurred that we secured only 
109 of these desperately needed quick-firing weapons before France 











Mountbatten played a leading part in 

persuading the Royal Navy to adopt 

the Oerlikon. 


Richardson eventually succeeded Goodeve in scientific 
control of D.M.W.D. 





Once they had made up their minds about the Oerlikon, however, 
the Admiralty sent to Zurich the best man they could have chosen to 
supervise and energize production. Steuart Mitchell 1 had had a bril- 
liant record as a young gunnery specialist, but after gaining early 
promotion his health broke down and he wasr invalided from the 
Service. In April 1939, when he went to Switzerland, he was on the 
civilian staff of the Chief Inspector of Naval Ordnance. 

Mitchell found that the Germans were taking a much greater 
interest than we were in the Oerlikon. The Luftwaffe had ordered an 
aircraft version as their answer to the Hispano, and a somewhat Gil- 
bertian situation developed when war broke out. The factory at 
Zurich was busy turning out guns and ammunition for both sides 
but all the steel for gun barrels and recoil springs came from Ger- 
many, who knew perfectly well that the Oerlikon firm were using 
some of it to make guns for the Royal Navy. 

Strangely enough, the Germans made no attempt to hamper the 
British contract, but by the morning of June 7, 1940, it was plain to 
Mitchell that he would be able to get no more guns out of Switzer- 
land. The fall of France was imminent, and Italy was on the brink of 
war. He arranged for his wife and two naval assistants to leave, and 
on June 1 6 he himself tried to escape by car to Spain. 

It was a bright moonlight night, and for some hours they made 
good progress on their journey westward. Eventually, however, they 
reached the side of a great valley; below them, flowing swiftly to- 
wards Lyons, was the river Rhdne. At this moment a strong premo- 
nition of danger made Mitchell stop the car, and, deciding to recon- 
noitre the river bank, he clambered down through the scrub at the 
side of the road. It was lucky he did, for he was still moving cau- 
tiously under cover when he saw a squad of German motor-cycle 
machine-gunners ride on to the bridge below him and dismount. His 
only escape route in that direction was blocked, and there was 
nothing for it but a return to Zurich. 

With Italy in the war Mitchell's only chance was now to head 
east, and he set off alone through the Balkans for Turkey. He took 
with him information about Oerlikon production, drawings of the 
gun, and three bulky Foreign Office sacks, crammed with enough 
jewel centres for aircraft instruments to last the Allies several months 
a priceless treasure trove, for we were now cut off from our main 
sources of supply in France and Italy. 

Making his way through Turkey and Palestine, Mitchell reached 
Egypt, and there a 'plane was waiting to take him to England. In 
three weeks he was back at the Admiralty. 

Now Sir Steuart Mitchell, Controller of Guided Weapons and Electronics at 
the Ministry of Supply. 


Although an agreement had been reached some months earlier 
to build the Oerlikon under licence in England, progress had not so 
far got beyond the planning stage. A factory had been ear- 
marked at Brighton, but when France fell this was considered too 
vulnerable, and a new prospective site was suggested at Bangor, in 
North Wales. The Navy's Director of Armament Supply (D.A.S.) 
had chosen a well-known civilian engineering firm in the Midlands 
to make the gun, but they had many other projects on their hands, 
and there the matter rested. June and July passed, and still no 
manager for Oerlikon production was appointed. 

Normally the manuf acture of an established and tested weapon 
like the Oerlikon would not have concerned Goodeve, but several 
Gunnery officers in the Admiralty who knew that the new depart- 
ment was working on "anti-aircraft weapons and devices' voiced 
their opinion that more attention might profitably be paid to close- 
range guns and less to 'devices.' They were well aware that Goodeve 
could not conjure up guns like rabbits out of a hat, but Commander 
Roskill, for one, thought that Goodeve's drive and initiative might 
infuse some sense of urgency into the lagging Oerlikon negotiations. 

Goodeve was therefore asked to look into the Oerlikon situation, 
and after he had talked things over with Mitchell they both went to 
Bath to confer with Ac Admiralty department officially responsible 
for the gun's production. As a scientist in his civilian days Goodeve 
had always known complete freedom to seek out the facts relevant 
to any problem on which he was working; in the commercial world 
competition was regarded as the natural, healthy corrective to in- 
efficiency. Government establishments, on the other hand, tended 
to regard competition in an entirely different light, condemning it as 
'duplication' and trying to suppress it. The system encouraged 
resentment of any criticism. It provided for one expert in each sub- 
ject and if that expert was rash enough to invite criticism he inevi- 
tably lost caste. Reflecting on this new environment, Goodeve came 
to the conclusion that his intervention over the Oerlikon was unlikely 
to gain him any popularity. 

So it proved, and the opening broadside fired at him at the meet- 
ing took precisely the line expected. 

"The fact that you have come down here at all implies quite 
unjustifiable criticism of us"," he heard and the speaker went on to 
delivery homily on the ethics of Government service. Everything 
was going according to plan. Interference from 'outside' would only 
slow up the project, he declared. There was no special urgency in 
building a factory, because they had no machine tools, and if any 
help was needed it could only come from some one with gun- 
production experience. The meeting broke up on the complacent 


note that the first Oerlikon might be produced from the British 
factory in two years' time. 

Soon after he got back to London Goodeve was summoned to see 
the First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound. 

"We seem to be getting no farther with the Oerlikon, 95 said 
Pound. "What's the reason for all this delay?" 

Goodeve explained the incongruous situation there was no fac- 
tory because there were no machine tools, and yet the Admiralty 
were not entitled to any machine tools unless they had a factory to 
put them in! 

Mitchell had actually located a large number of machine tools 
which would have enabled them to start working on the Oerlikon, 
but he had been told that these were already earmarked for the 
Ministry of Aircraft Production. Lord Beaverbrook was the last 
person to sit back and wait for factories to fall into his lap; he had 
made sure of getting his factory buildings first, and characteristically 
he was first in the queue for any machine tools that were going. 

Pound listened intently. 

"You have my full backing in anything you can do to get the 
guns," he said. 

With this carte blanche Goodeve went ahead. 

On the way back from a profitless three-day search for a suitable 
building in the Midlands he noticed from the train some new 
railway running sheds at Ruislip. These looked ideal for conversion 
to the factory they needed, but there seemed little chance of per- 
suading the Ministry of Supply to hand them over to the Admiralty 
unless he resorted to bluff. 

He took his courage in his hands. When he appeared before the 
Chairman of the Allocation Board next morning to state his claim he 
explained the vital need for the Oerlikon, and then announced 
boldly that he had 250 machine tools but no factory to put them in* 
A few moments later he walked out of the meeting with a requisition 
notice for the Ruislip sheds in his pocket and went to see Sir Percy 
Mills, the Controller-General of Machine Tools. After waving the 
requisition note in front of him Goodeve got an initial allocation of 
tools within a week. At long last the OerUkon project seemed to be 
moving ahead. 

The next step was to persuade D.A.S. and the firm they had 
chosen to make the gun that the Ruislip sheds now in their hands 
provided a sensible alternative to a non-existent factory at Bangor. 
In addition, a target time for production had to be fixed. This pro- 
duced a battle royal round the Controller's conference table, with 
Admiral Fraser acting as a firm referee. 

Goodeve's opponents, prophesying prompt destruction of any 


project at Ruislip by enemy bombing, lost their case for Bangor ; the 
saving in time by using a ready-made building justified the risk of 
bomb damage. Argument then switched to the target date for pro- 
ducing the first gun. 

Having gone into the design of the Oerlikon with Mitchell and 
studied the production problems as closely as he could, Goodeve was 
sure the first gun could be finished in six months. "Ridiculous," said 
the manufacturer. "Nonsense," said the representative of D.A.S. 
The discussion raged for three and a half hours before Admiral 
Fraser rapped on the table. 

"Gentlemen, I have to make a decision," he said, "and that deci- 
sion is that the Oerlikon is to be produced six months from now." 
Then, turning to the losers of this argument, he added with a mis- 
chievous smile, "If you don't know how to do it, ask Goodeve." 

At tea after the meeting Goodeve backed his opinion with two 
wagers. To the Manufacturer he offered a bottle of brandy if a bomb 
fell on Ruislip before the first Oerlikon was finished; to the Director 
of Naval Ordnance he promised another if the first Oerlikon took 
longer than six months. 

For a short time there was furious activity. The makers of the 
gun rushed their architects to Ruislip; London Passenger Transport 
Board moved their Underground railway coaches out of the sheds; 
and machine tools began to arrive. It was the machine tools, how- 
ever, that caused the first serious hitch. There were not enough of 
them, and it took several pitched battles between Engineer Rear- 
Admiral Harold Perring, the Admiralty machine-tool controller, and 
the Ministry of Aircraft Production, who wanted all available tools 
for making the Hispano gun for their fighters, before Perring, a very 
forceful character, got what he needed. Goodeve, who had been 
dealing with personnel problems, also ran up against a snag which 
threatened to slow up production. There were not enough executives 
to supervise the work at Ruislip, and by the end of October things 
looked black. Only thirty of the machine tools had been wired up; 
the architects and builders were weeks behind schedule, and Good- 
eve often found himself in sole control at the sheds issuing and 
approving plans because the manufacturers had no one on the spot 
to take decisions. 

The firm under contract to build the gun had many other projects 
on their hands for the Services, and they had been used to dealing 
with the influential M.A.P., whose organization steam-rollered over 
all supply difficulties for them. Accustomed to every priority, they 
were unwilling to improvise with the trickle of equipment which the 
Admiralty could secure now that convoy losses were cutting down 
supplies of everything from machinery to food. They took the atti- 


tude that they could do nothing to hasten the job, and Goodeve, 
worried at the lack of drive which left the existing resources of the 
factory idle, was finally forced to report to Admiral Fraser. 

The Admiral descended on Ruislip, toured the silent factory, and 
gave the contracting firm a piece of his mind. As he stamped out he 
said to Goodeve, "You're in charge from now on. And I want a 
progress report handed to me personally once a week." 

His visit galvanized the manufacturers. Whatever further compli- 
cations Ruislip might produce, they wanted no more salvos from the 
Admiral, and every one got down to work. Within a few months the 
factory was a hive of industry, and Goodeve, who was spending half 
his time there and half at the Admiralty directing the labouis of 
his research team, began to feel that his somewhat thankless task 
with the gun was almost at an end. Before he could return to his 
own department, however, he was involved in two memorable 

When work on the gun began at Ruislip Russia was still an ally of 
Germany, and Communist agents lost no time in stirring up trouble 
in the factory. With Ruislip not getting under way until the end of 
1940, the Oerlikon management could not pick and choose their 
workers; they had to take on a very mixed bag, among them a num- 
ber of undesirables already dismissed from other factories. Here was 
fertile ground for Communist propaganda. 

Agents were infiltrated into key positions, and for some time the 
shop stewards were able to discover in advance the gist of many 
decisions taken by the management. Whenever these related to wel- 
fare problems a violent agitation would promptly be launched to 
secure precisely the concessions which were about to be announced. 
This tactic won the Communists much support as champions of 
their workmates, until a dummy resolution was deliberately fed into 
the minutes of the Management Committee, and thus the leakage 
was traced to a clerk in the drawing-office. He had been passing 
copies of all confidential memoranda straight to the shop stewards ! 

The spirit in the factory worried Goodeve. With the country fight- 
ing for survival, here were British workmen doing their level best to 
sabotage the war effort. To bring home to the bulk of the men the 
importance of the Oerlikon he got permission for a sailor who had 
fired the gun in action to come down to Ruislip and give a talk one 
day during the lunch break. The ideal ambassador arrived from one 
of the home ports a great, burly Able Seaman who gave a vivid 
description of the fighting at Narvik, where he had manned an 
Oerlikon mounted on a railway truck, and his gun had been heavily 
engaged against the German dive-bombers. In his breezy, natural 
way he was the best possible advocate for the new gun, and he got 


a tremendous reception, which made the sequel to his visit all the 
more bizarre. On the following morning the shop stewards de- 
manded to see the management. "We realize now how important 
this gun is/' said their spokesman, "and we think it's a damned dis- 
grace what you're paying us." With that he thrust forward a daim 
for higher wages for the whole factory staff, and threatened an 
immediate strike if this was not granted. The sabotage campaign 
was stepped up, with more demands, more strikes and threats of 
strikes and finally the ringleader and two others overreached 

With the shortage of manpower it was not easy to deal with 
indiscipline, and permission to dismiss workers had to be secured 
from the Ministry of Labour. "You'll have to fire them," Goodeve 
told the works manager, and, to his relief, the permit was given. Two 
hours after the trouble-makers were sacked the inevitable deputa- 
tion of shop stewards arrived with an ultimatum. "Either the men 
are reinstated or we call out the whole works," they said. 

Goodeve walked down into the factory and,' calling the men 
round him, he said to the ringleaders hanging on the fringe of the 
crowd, "Tell your brother-workmen what your complaints are!" 

The malcontents had their say, and then Goodeve's turn came. 
He told the men of the ultimatum which had followed the Able 
Seaman's talk; he told them about the leakage from confidential 
meetings, and how in every case the agitators had taken the credit 
for decisions already made by the management. He then suspended 
work for the day. "Make up your minds by nine o'clock to-morrow 
if you want to go on working here," he said bluntly. 

That same afternoon another group of workers called on the 
management, and presented a different ultimatum. They threatened 
a counter-strike if the agitators were re-engaged! By nightfall the 
story of the real issues behind the dispute had spread through the 
whole district, and there was a great deal of frank talking in the 
local pubs. Next day every man in the Oerlikon factory, with the 
exception of the three who had been dismissed, was back at his job. 
The workers held a fresh election of shop stewards, and from that 
time there was no trouble. 

The last major problem for Goodeve to tackle before he returned 
to the Admiralty developed through an unexpected failure in the 
supply of gun barrels. The elaborate machinery needed to bore the 
channel through the immensely tough steel they were using failed to 
arrive. It was a serious bottleneck, threatening a delay of three to 
four months in the production of the gun. Searching for some way 
out of the impasse, Goodeve suddenly thought of William Dennis 


At his engineering works at Grantham Kendall was turning out 
hundreds of barrels every day for a gun very similar to the Oerlikon 
the 20-mm. Hispano which he was making for the R.A.F. 
Whereas the Oerlikon had to stand up to very rigorous use it had 
to be completely waterproof and be capable of instant use after 
months of idleness and exposure to rough weather the Hispano 
was a lighter and much more intricate weapon. But Goodeve knew 
that Kendall's machines could make barrels for the Oerlikon, and 
the idea of enlisting the aid of an M.A.P. factory to turn out parts for 
a naval gun particularly appealed to him. It offered, too, a chance of 
success at a particularly difficult sport the game of Beating the 
Beaver. In the priorities battle Lord Beaverbrook was already one 
round up, thanks to his astute cornering of the machine tools which 
the Admiralty had coveted for the Oerlikon. 

To Lincolnshire, therefore, went Goodeve and Admiral Perring. 
They found Kendall a willing ally, and as soon as the predicament of 
the Oerlikon factory was explained to him he made an immediate 
offer of fifty barrels within a month, to be followed by a second fifty. 

"All I want from you is the steel to make them with," he said. "I 
can't very well use M.A.P.'s steel." 

"How are we going to pay your firm for this ?" asked Goodeve. 

"Oh, don't worry about that," said Kendall cheerfully. "The 
Beaver will pay the bill ; he won't mind a bit." 

To Goodeve it seemed distinctly doubtful whether M.A.P.'s boss 
would, in fact, support this illicit naval co-operation quite so readily 
if he ever came to hear about it, but Kendall was as good as his 
word. Within a month fifty barrels had quietly arrived at Ruislip, 
and this tided the naval factory over its crisis. 

With the teething troubles of the Oerlikon now at an end, Good- 
eve was free to grapple once more with other c weapons and devices.' 
From the Admiralty in February and March 1941 he continued to 
follow reports of the Oerlikon's progress with keen interest. No bomb 
ever dropped on Ruislip, and although he lost one of his wagered 
bottles of brandy his estimate was not far wide of the mark. The 
first gun was finished and sucessfully tested in seven months. Within 
a year Ruislip was turning out 750 Oerlikons every month, and by 
the autumn of 1942 this output had risen to 1000. Shadow factories 
in the West of England were turning out half as many again.. 

To tell the full story of the gun which played such a vital part in 
the war at sea would be out of place here, for Charles Goodeve and 
the members of his team who helped in the birth of the Ruislip fac- 
tory only appeared in this first phase. But the American venture 
which had its beginnings in Mitchell's genius for organization and 
improvisation calls for special mention. 


To insure against the destruction of the Ruislip factory by enemy 
bombing Mitchell had been sent to America in October 1940 to set 
up an organization for making the gun there. The difficulties he had 
to contend with from the start were enough to dismay anyone less 
determined, for he found a nation still at peace, and, with all pro- 
duction geared to peace-time needs, no large firm would look at the 
Oerlikon contract. Mitchell turned to the small jobbing firms in New 
England. He had an Admiralty credit for 40,000,000 dollars and soon 
he had persuaded over a hundred of the little firms to turn out parts 
for the Oerlikon in driblets of twenty and tihirty. A small mill was 
leased in Providence, Rhode Island, and equipped with thousands 
of second-hand machine tools. Mitchell set to work to convert all his 
Swiss drawings of the gun; every calculation had to be transposed 
from millimetres to inches. The works at Zurich had shipped a gun 
for America to act as a prototype, but it fell into the hands of the 
Germans at Bordeaux. Another was then sent by destroyer from 

In spite of all these early setbacks Mitchell felt confident enough 
to cable the Admiralty a month after he arrived, giving an estimate 
of seven months for production of the first gun, but before they could 
go ahead there was an all-important hurdle to clear. 

No war material could be made in the United States unless it was 
considered suitable for use by the American forces. The fate of the 
Oerlikon therefore hinged on the opinion of the U.S. Navy, and to 
their proving ground at Dahlgren one day came Captain William 
Blandy, then serving in the Bureau of Ordnance as an anti-aircraft 
specialist. Manning the gun himself, Mitchell fired bursts at a strip 
of armour plate, at an aircraft wing, and at a self -sealing tank. The 
Captain said little, and Mitchell could not make out whether he 
was impressed or not. 

After some minutes Mitchell sat him in the seat behind the gun 

and strapped up the harness. "Just write B for Blandy in the sky 

That'll show you how easily the gun handles," he said. Captain 
Blandy began a little gingerly, but he quickly warmed to his work as 
he neared the lower half of the letter B. When he unbuttoned his har- 
ness he was grinning broadly. " Well, Commander," he said, " I guess 
we'll buy that!" And that was all. In precisely twenty minutes one 
man, acting on his own judgment, had reached a decision which had 
taken the Admiralty eighteen months of trials and bitter argument. 1 
Admittedly the U.S. Navy by then had the benefit of a report from 
the Admiralty on the performance of the gun in action, and on a 
visit to Washington Mountbatten himself had confirmed the Oerli- 

1 Captain Blandy was later to become one of the great naval figures of the 
war, and he was Commander-in-Ghief of the first atom trials at Bikini Atoll. 


kon's potentialities but the speed with which the American Navy 
acted was impressive. 

For their country too the war clouds were gathering now, and on 
the afternoon of Pearl Harbour Mitchell had a 'phone call. "We're 
commandeering everything you've got," said the voice at the other 
end of the line. The quick-firing cannon gun from Switzerland was a 
vital factor in getting the U.S. Navy back into the fight which had 
begun so disastrously for them, and before long they were fitting as 
many as 90 Qerlikons into one ship. 

Mitchell worked on in the States for two more years, and he never 
ceased to marvel at the flexibility of American industry. There was 
no ammunition industry there at the start. It simply did not exist, 
and the Americans had to be shown every move how to make cart- 
ridge cases and filling plant, how to develop propellant which 
matched the ballistics of the gun, and how to develop the filling of 
primer caps and shells with new types of explosives. But in the end 
they were turning out 30,000,000 rounds every month and making 
as many Oerlikon guns every eighteen hours as the Admiralty had 
ordered altogether when they handed out the first contract to the 
factory in Zurich. 

Gold statistics reveal that the United States alone spent 
2,000,800,000,000 dollars on the cannon which Earl Mountbatten, 
now Britain's First Sea Lord, had had to fight so hard and so long to 
introduce into the Royal Navy and they employed over 460,000 
men and women to make it. 



A HOUGH the invasion threat passed, the closing months of 1940 
were anxious ones for the Admiralty. Between May and 
December 745 British, Allied, and neutral ships were sunk, 
and, writing to President Roosevelt in December, the Prime Minis- 
ter described the situation as almost comparable to the worst year 
of the last war. 

In the five weeks ending November 3 losses reached a total of 
420,000 tons. Our estimate of annual tonnage which ought to be 
imported in order to maintain our effort at full strength is 43 million. 
The tonnage entering in September was only at the rate of 37 
million, and in October at 38 million. Were this diminution to con- 
tinue at this rate it would be fatal. 1 

Although the Wheezers and Dodgers had been chiefly concerned 
with anti-aircraft problems at the start, their readiness to tackle any- 
thing soon involved them in every sphere of the war at sea. In the 
early stages they had had to c sdP their wares to other departments 
in a stronger position for pushing them through official channels, but 
as they became better known various naval Staff Divisions brought 
problems to them. By the time Goodeve became involved at Ruidip 
his team were hard at work on all kinds of counter-measures to the 
enemy shipping blockade. Dove was exploring radar deception 
problems with Dr R. H. Purcell 2 and a tall young South African 
R.N.V.R. lieutenant named Harris; new anti-aircraft wire devices 
brought frequent conferences with a Sapper major, Millis Jefferis,* 
who had taken over the headquarters of Radio Normandie, in Port- 
land Place, where he was conducting strange researches with high 
explosives; and Norway was now engrossed in experiments with 

1 Sir Winston Churchill, The Second World War, VoL II, p. 495. 
* Now Chief Scientific Adviser to the Home Office. 

8 Later the Sapper major became Major-General Sir Millis Jefferis. K.B.E., 


With the shortage of guns the rocket seemed the only substitute. It 
was simple to make, and it needed no elaborate barrel or mounting. 
Professor Lindemann, 1 the Prime Minister's scientific adviser, fore- 
saw the rocket supplanting the gun altogether, and intensive research 
into the development of 2-inch and 3-inch rockets was launched by 
a team headed by Sir Alwyn Crow, firat at Fort Halstead and later 
at Aberporth, on the Welsh coast. 

Goodeve did not share Lindemann's enthusiasm for the rocket as 
a substitute for the gun, but considered that its peculiar characteris- 
tics might prove useful. It was a highly capricious missile in these 
early days, and its tendency to do the unexpected was destined to 
give several members of his team some hair-raising experiences. But 
he realized that rocket weapons off ered the only immediate hope for 
the merchant ships, and the Inspectorate began its own programme 
of research and development to apply Crow's rockets to ships. 

The first outcome of this was a fearsome device called the "Pig 
Trough," which Norway designed to shoot down dive-bombers. To 
keep it pointing vertically while the ship rolled it had a swinging 
mounting which looked like a large umbrella-stand, and into this 
were crammed fourteen rockets (then known as U.P.'s 2 ), each carry- 
ing a 2-pounder shell. The German dive-bombers attacking a ship 
had to pass immediately over the vessel as they pulled out of their 
dive, and the Pig Trough gave the effect of a monster shotgun, laying 
a vertical barrage in the path of the attacking 'plane. The inaccuracy 
of the individual rockets was a blessing, as it gave a good spread to 
the shots. 

The first sea trials of the Pig Trough were held in H.M.S. 
Conqueror, a goo-ton yacht which in peace-time had been owned by 
Gordon Selfridge. She was now an experimental vessel, and, armed 
with a wide variety of unorthodox devices, she used to trail her coat 
off the French coast. Her ship's company took the Pig Trough in 
their stride, but early acquaintance with the explosive umbrella- 
stand showed that the weapon had to be treated with marked respect. 
The fuse was operated by vanes which revolved to bring it to the 
striking position, but unfortunately its designers had not provided 
an effective method of stopping these vanes turning prematurely. As 
a result the rounds were often on the verge of explosion when they 
were lifted into position in the mounting. 

Working under Norway was an able engineer named Goodf ellow, 
who was to do a good deal of experimenting with rockets in his first 

1 Professor Lindemann was in 1941 created first Baron Gherwell. He was 
made a Privy Councillor in the following year, and a Companion of Honour in 

'Abbreviation of TJnrotating Projectiles.' 


year in the department A phlegmatic man, not given to superstition, 
even Goodfellow regarded Friday the I3th as a singularly ill-chosen 
date for the initial sea trials of the Pig Trough, and his misgivings 
increased when one of the early salvos brought down a seagull. After 
that everything went wrong. Before the rocket shells fired the vanes 
on the fuse were supposed to do four and a half turns, but one of the 
early rounds he handled had plainly been ill-treated in transit. Its 
fuse had reached its last half-turn as he picked it up, and he was 
holding the round in his arms, when he saw a sudden puff of smoke. 
All he could do was to hurl it into the scuppers and dive for the deck. 
In the resulting explosion one of the Conqueror's crew was wounded 
painfully but not seriously in the posterior! Worse was to follow, for 
a cascade of Pig Trough rockets from one salvo fell back on the ship, 
several rounds penetrating two decks and exploding in the engine- 

The fuse continued to give trouble, and Goodfellow spent much 
of his time dumping live rounds over the side into deep water before 
the Admiralty called for the withdrawal of the initial supply alto- 
gether and redesigned the fuse with an efficient safety-pin. In due 
course the Pig Trough became the first rocket weapon to be installed 
in merchant ships. Its success was limited, for the slung mounting 
was not steady enough to give the required accuracy, but it was 
undeniably impressive to see in action, and it did at least give the 
hard-pressed merchant seamen something to hit back with. 

Norway's next venture was a shore-based rocket projector called 
the "Radiator." Although, now that winter had set in, there was 
no likelihood of a major invasion attempt, it was thought that the 
enemy might well try again in the spring, and the Admiralty called 
for a weapon which could be mounted at the mouths of rivers, to 
fire on approaching landing-craft. Once again speed was the essence 
of the problem; Norway had to find a simple contrivance which 
could be easily mass-produced at a time when the country was des- 
perately short of steel. The Radiator was simple enough; it fired 
salvos of ten 2-inch rockets horizontally, and it did not have to be 
elevated or trained. Again, the inaccuracy of the rocket was useful. 

For its trials a secluded stretch of water west of Aldeburgh, in 
Suffolk, was chosen, and Tolman, who by then had finished his abs- 
truse gunnery calculations in the office in Archway Block North, 
went down to Suffolk with Brinsmead, another new recruit to the 
department. When they arrived and unpacked their gear they found 
they had not brought a firing switch with them, so an ordinary cheap 
tumbler switch was bought at a shop in the nearest village. Rocket 
weapons have one particularly unpleasant trait; at the moment of 
firing a searing tongue of flame belches from the rear of the mount- 


ing. Mindful of this, Tolman and Brinsmead followed a set safety 
routine, and two switches a safety switch and a firing switch had 
to be brought into operation before each salvo was loosed off across 
the marshes. 

When the Radiator was wired up they fired several rounds success- 
fully, and they were both standing behind the rocket gun, when 
Brinsmead said, " Let's try one more salvo, and then pack up." He 
flicked over the safety switch, and Tolman had just started to walk 
across to operate the firing switch when there was a tremendous 
explosion. The tumbler switch had short-circuited, everything was 
enveloped in flame, and Brinsmead, standing right in the path of 
the blast, was instantly scorched brown from head to foot. Several 
discs of thick millboard from the base of the rockets struck Tolman, 
hurling him flat on his face, but he got off lightly, his only sub- 
stantial wound being caused by a most unlikely projectile a spirit- 
level, which the blast had swept from a bench at the rear of the 
mounting. The arrival back at the Admiralty of the Radiator trial 
team caused quite a stir, for the unfortunate Brinsmead had lost his 
eyebrows, his eyelashes, and most of his hair and he was deaf for 
several weeks afterwards. It was a salutary lesson in safety pre- 
cautions ! 

Radiator passed its trials with no other mishaps, and many of 
these anti-invasion rocket guns were installed on the East Coast. By 
this time Goodeve's team had learnt a good deal about rockets and 
their possibilities, and Goodf ellow, studying the shortcomings of the 
unloved Pig Trough, evolved a much more ingenious and advanced 
rocket weapon for ships. 

Christened the "Strength through Joy," it consisted of two large 
projectors connected by hydraulic pipes to a remote-control cabin 
rather like a squirrel's cage which contained a sight and a joy-stick. 
When the layer of the gun had strapped himself into a sort of cradle 
beneath the sight and grasped the joy-stick he could swing the rockets 
to any angle he wanted by moving up or down steps inside his cir- 
cular steel pillbox. By this means he could engage an enemy aircraft 
coming in low over the water, follow its course right over the ship, 
and continue to attack it as it flew away. 

On the drawing-board the Strength through Joy looked an in- 
genious and formidable weapon, and since there were only forty 
component parts in the whole device it had the added merit of sim- 

The first demonstration model was soon completed in the works of 
a famous car company in the Midlands, but a heavy air raid des- 
troyed the factory. No trace could be found of the Strength through 
Joy, and only one of Goodf dlow's drawings survived the raid. Work- 


ing night and day with another engineering firm a few miles away, 
he made an entirely new set of drawings in three days, and three 
weeks later a new prototype was loaded on to a lorry and sent south 
for trials at Portsmouth. 

On its way through London the lorry halted on the Horse Guards 
Parade so that Goodeve and some of the senior officers from the 
D.E.M.S. 1 organization could inspect it. One or two admirals, filled 
with curiosity, also emerged, and examined the Strength through Joy 
with much interest, and the High Brass became thicker and thicker 
round the parked truck, until one of the Board of Admiralty went 
into Number 10 Downing Street and brought out Winston Churchill 

The Prime Minister climbed into the control cabin and swung 
himself on the sight for a minute or two, doing gymnastics and 
watching the rocket projector follow his movements at a distance. 
"A very impressive weapon," he said when he emerged. "Order a 
thousand of them !" 

Some one hesitantly remarked that the Strength through Joy had 
not done any trials. The Prime Minister reddened. 

"I said, order a thousand of them." 

So a thousand were ordered and then the new rocket weapon 
developed a ghastly snag. The hydraulic follow-up mechanism 
which guided the movement of the projector from the sight by 
remote control was supposed to be accurate to within a quarter of a 
degree a margin which would have been more than satisfactory for 
a shotgun weapon of this sort. But, although the mechanism attained 
this degree of accuracy in the hands of the makers, it was an alarm- 
ingly different story at sea. 

By the time the Strength through Joy was ready for its trials on 
board ship Norway's rocket-development team had been streng- 
thened by the redoubtable Menhinick, last heard of as an Army 
officer at Portsmouth. Alec Menhinick's arrival at Archway Block 
North came about in a way unusual even for recruits to the unortho- 
dox cirde of the Wheezers and Dodgers; it was mainly due to an 
ancient tank which for twenty-two years had sat, embedded in con- 
crete, on a plinth overlooking the jetty at Whale Island. When the 
invasion scare was at its height Second-Lieutenant Menhinick had 
taken his f our naval guns and twenty-six soldiers to Suffolk to repel 
the enemy. After three weeks of inactivity he was ordered to hand 
over his guns and some of his men to an Army unit at Wickham 
Market and return to Portsmouth to await further orders. 

1 Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships, a branch of Trade Division respon- 
sible for the aiming of the Merchant Navy. 


This suited Menhinick down to the ground. It meant that, for the 
time being at least, he was still attached to the Navy. 

"What are you going to do now?" asked Captain Blind, who was 
commanding H.M.S. Excellent. 

"I'll find something," said Menhinick. He was certain of one thing 
only. He had no desire to be summoned back to the R.A.S.C., and, 
casting round for something to occupy his attention, he thought of 
the Whale Island tank. 

This proved on closer inspection to be a los-horse-power Daimler 
Mark II, presented by the Army to Excellent in 1918. To Menhinick 
it seemed a pity it should be lying idle on its concrete slab at a time 
like this. Even if it was a quarter of a century old it might still make 
a useful addition to the defences of Portsmouth if it could be per- 
suaded to function. 

Captain Brind warmly agreed, and Menhinick set to work. A 
number of parts had been removed from the engine: the external 
oil-pipes had rusted away; and some of the controls were missing. 
The engine itself was thick with rust. 

Daimler's had no spare parts, but a call on the Lord Mayor of 
Portsmouth produced permission to strip another presentation tank 
which reposed on Southsea Common. The naval dockyard made 
some oil-pipes, and after spraying the tracks every day for a month 
with a mixture of paraffin and oil Menhinick started the clattering 
engines and drove the veteran gingerly off its plinth. Watched by an 
admiring crowd of naval officers, he and a corporal then set off on 
their first trial run, with a large White Ensign fluttering proudly 
from the tank's stern. 

They safely negotiated the river-bed crossing from Whale Island 
to the mainland, and headed for a hostelry in Copnor Road, Ports- 
mouth. The tank proved difficult to steer, for neither Menhinick nor 
the corporal could see out to either side, and the sharp camber of the 
road added to their problems. 

To their surprise and relief they reached the Traveller's Rest with- 
out mishap, and there the giant was refreshed with forty gallons of 
water while Menhinick and his companion hot, exhausted, and 
covered in oil dispatched several pints of beer. They then began 
the return journey. 

With their field of vision limited by the giant tracks, and both of 
them deafened by the shattering noise inside the tank, they thun- 
dered towards Whale Island blissfully unaware of the disaster about 
to befall them. Suddenly Menhinick sighted a policeman dancing 
up and down in the centre of the road and waving his arms. He 
braked as hard as he dared, and the ay-ton tank came to a grinding 
halt When they clambered out they found, to their consternation, 


the total wreckage of a commercial traveller's saloon car pinned 
under the tank's left sponson. The sponson had literally sliced the car 
in half as it stood parked and, fortunately, empty at the side of the 

"The owner was very good about it," said Menhinick afterwards, 
"but we were not insured, and the outlook seemed pretty black as 
we disentangled ourselves from the crushed remains of the car and 
crawled back to Excellent" The Navy, however, came to the rescue, 
half the bill for damages being appropriately passed through the 
Gunnery Improvement Fund. 

They were still wondering how to meet the rest of the bill, when 
the Corporal had a brainwave and volunteered to call on the Lord 
Mayor, who had taken a great interest in their activities with the 
tank. He emerged with a generous grant from the Lord Mayor's War 

With the recommissioning of the tank, H.M.S. Excellent now had 
a powerful mobile fortress of their own, and Captain Blind, im- 
pressed with Menhinick's initiative, said, "I'm putting in a commen- 
dation to your Commanding Officer for your work on the tank." 

"I'd much rather you didn't, sir," said Menhinick, aghast. "Once 
they're reminded where I am they're bound to post me away from 
Excellent. I suppose there's no chance of a transfer to the Navy?" 

"There might be," said Brind. "Ill see what I can do." With the 
backing of Blind's recommendation, the Admiralty took a more 
friendly view of Second-Lieutenant Menhinick when he applied for 
the second time to join the R.N.V.R., and the transfer went through. 
Meanwhile Goodeve had just sent a request to King Alfred for 
another officer with some mechanical aptitude to be appointed to his 
section, and, still in his Army uniform, Alec Menhinick went up to 
London for an interview. 

His posting to what seemed a highly scientific department of the 
Admiralty filled him with misgivings, and he voiced these to Good- 

"You know I'm not a scientist, sir I can hardly add or sub- 
tract. ' 

Goodeve rose from his desk and led him to the door of his room. 
"Look, Menhinick," he said. "Out there are all sorts of clever chaps 
with slide-rules who spend all day adding and subtracting. If you 
ever have any adding or subtracting to do just give it to them !" 

Alec Menhinick soon found his fears were groundless. He had 
wanted excitement, and in the next four years he found it in full 
measure. Goodeve had engaged him for war trials. Within a few 
weeks of his arrival in the Admiralty Lieutenant Menhinick, 
RJNLV.R., was wounded and swimming for his life in the North Sea 


Peter assisted his father in the trials of Swiss Roll. 


when the ship in which he was testing the latest rocket weapon was 
bombed and sunk under him. 

With the Prime Minister's interest aroused, the first Strength 
through Joy was soon ready for sea trials, and it had its first unhappy 
baptism in the Kilbrennan Sound, south of Arran Island. 

Menhinick checked over the equipment. Everything seemed in 
order, and he watched the gunlayer strap himself into the harness 
below the sight in his revolving cabin and test the controls, the two 
batteries of rockets swivelling easily and obediently as he moved the 
joy-stick. Then the aircraft came in sight, heading towards the ship 
with its towed target. 

Just as the initial firing order was given from the bridge something 
made Menhinick glance over his shoulder at the projectors. To his 
horror, he saw them gradually begin to sag towards the deck; there 
was a fault in the hydraulic system, and they were no longer answer- 
ing to the controls. 

Watching the target through his glasses, the Commander R.N. in 
charge of the trials was unaware of anything amiss, and at this 
instant he shouted, " Fire !" 

"Stop everything!" bellowed the Captain of the ship, who had 
heard Menhinick's startled exclamation and saw the projectors still 
drooping towards the deck. It was too late. The firing key was 
pressed just as the rockets sagged to their limit, and the full salvo 
went screaming low over the deck into the sea just off the port side, 
throwing up a towering column of black foam. 

For a moment there was an awestruck silence, and then the Cap- 
tain spoke. 

"A fantastic weapon, Menhinick, 9 ' he observed dryly, "a really 
fantastic weapon !" 

Hard though they tried, Norway's rocket team and the makers of 
the Strength through Joy were unable to eliminate this fatal flaw. 
However well it performed at the works, and on trials ashore, it went 
wrong with unfailing regularity at sea. Perhaps people were too busy 
to give it the careful attention it needed; at any rate, the connexion 
between the sight and the projectors was frequently so erratic that 
an error of ten degrees was common. Only a few of the thousand 
were ever made, and these were installed in merchant ships, where 
they proved highly unpopular. It was not until the department 
turned their attention to two new devices, the Pillar Box and the 
Harvey Projector, that real progress was made, 

The Pillar Box, so called because it looked just like one, was 
operated by a man who shut himself inside a circular, swivelling 
cabin with a bank of 2-inch rockets on either hand of him outside 


the casing. There were fourteen rockets, and he could train or elevate 
them by moving levers mounted on a contraption resembling the 
handlebars of a bicycle. 

Designed by a certain Lieutenant Hinton, on D.N.O.'s staff at 
Bath, it was a much more refined affair than its predecessors, and 
more expensive to make, but by the time it went into production the 
pressure on the factories was easing and the Oerlikon was coming 
along. Norway's team helped with its development, but the rocket 
weapon which occupied most of their time was the Harvey Projector. 

With Professor Lindemann's backing, the Harvey had been made 
in large numbers for the Army, who disliked it intensely, and it had 
no refinements whatever when Norway saw it first. In appearance 
it was starkly functional, several pieces of gas-piping being mounted 
on a pedestal composed mainly of other pieces of gas-piping. It had 
tin shields on either side, and into each of these was built a glass 
window with crossed lines to provide a rough-and-ready sight. 

Down the centre of this ugly contraption ran two rails, and on 
these lay a single rocket shell. If the mounting of the Harvey was 
unimpressive to look at, the projectile itself was a very different 
matter. Over nine feet long, it had an aerodynamic brass fuse in its 
nose, carried nearly a stone of high explosive and cordite, and was 
capable of travelling at least seven miles. Heath Robinson himself 
would have been proud of the firing mechanism, which was actuated 
by a small Ever Ready torch battery and a household bell-push ! 

At first sight the Harvey was an unpromising weapon for sea 
service, but the Navy were in no position to pick and choose, and 
Norway went to work on it at the Ministry of Supply's rocket-testing 
range at Aberporth, a remote place on the Welsh coast near Cardi- 
gan. His team included Menhinick, Cooke, and another R.N.V.R. 
lieutenant, Ian Hassafl, son of the famous cartoonist. 

Even in the unconventional setting of Goodeve's band of experi- 
mentalists Hassafl was a notable character. Older than most 
R.N.V.R. recruits to the department, he had travelled the world and 
been many things in his time a welterweight boxer of some ability, 
an artist, cow-puncher, and sailor as well. He had great physical 
strength, and could smash wooden planks with his bare fists without 
any apparent discomfort! And he was something of a rebel a 
highly engaging rebel, who delighted in drawing brilliantly mis- 
chievous cartoons of his senior officers. Hassall had not been long 
in tfye department when he drew an instructional picture of the 
Harvey Projector to warn gun crews against the danger of flame 
blast.^ This was most necessary, for when each Harvey round left 
its guide rails a roaring tongue of fire 15 feet long rushed back from 
the mounting. The illustration was just what Norway wanted, but 


in the background, minus his trousers, which had been removed by 
the blast, was an unmistakable caricature of Admiral Sir Frederick 
Dreyer, whose wrath was only appeased when Hassall asked him to 
accept the original of his sketch. 

Norway's team had almost completed their modifications to the 
Harvey Projector when a large party of senior Army officers and 
civilians, among them Professor Lawrence, President Roosevelt's 
scientific adviser, descended on Aberporth for a demonstration of 
various weapons undergoing trials there. 

As the Navy's sole representatives, Hassall and Cooke were allotted 
a star r61e with Harvey, and as they stood to attention in their con- 
crete emplacement high on the cliff-head the generals gathered 
round and gazed with awe at the huge rocket lying on its rails. 

"I suppose you can't get much accuracy with these contrivances, 
eh?" queried one of them. 

"Oh, I don't know about that, sir," said Hassall airily. "It all 
depends how they're handled, you know." Glancing out to sea, 
where the guns had been firing all morning at a glider target sus- 
pended below a balloon, he added, out of sheer bravado, "Would 
you like us to see if we can do something really difficult? How about 
cutting the balloon cable away from the ship, for instance?" 

The generals looked astonished, as well they might. At a range of 
one and a half miles they could barely see the cable. In point of fact 
the Harvey had no precise accuracy at all, and no one knew this 
better than Hassall. But he would have to go through with it now. 

On the previous evening he and Cooke had rehearsed an entirely 
meaningless jargon of shouted commands to impress their visitors, 
and as they began bellowing at each other the generals backed away 
from the projector. With a belch of flame the rocket left the rails, 
and it was HassalTs turn for astonishment. Suddenly the balloon 
jerked and rose slowly away from the ship, its cable dangling. With 
one single, incredibly lucky shot the Harvey had cut it from its moor- 
ings, and the resulting hue and cry only ended when the balloon was 
located and shot down over Somerset by a Spitfire ! 

The first Harveys to go to sea were fitted to some large banana 
ships converted to carry out independent patrols in the North and 
South Atlantic. Their task was to intercept blockade runners, and, 
already quite heavily armed, their ships' companies at first regarded 
the new rocket device with no great enthusiasm. It was not always 
easy to give exhaustive training to Merchant Navy crews in handling 
and maintaining the Harveys. Some took the attitude that too much 
fuss was being made, and they ignored safety precautions altogether; 
others thought up new methods of keeping the rockets dry, and in 
one ship the locker in which they were stored was caref idly moved 


to a new home just abaft the funnel. This effectively cooked all the 
rounds to a turn, and when the crew went to Action Stations one 
morning off Milford Haven the first rocket to be lifted from the 
locker ignited instantly, blowing all the gunlayer's dothing from his 

The really spectacular career of the Harvey did not begin, how- 
ever, until a group of scientists who had been working at the Uni- 
versity at Exeter with all encouragement from Lindemann and the 
Prime Minister produced a remarkable new fuse. 

One of the most difficult problems which the dive-bomber set the 
gunnery experts was the great speed of the aircraft and the angle at 
which it approached its target. A contact fuse would only detonate 
an anti-aircraft shdl if it scored a direct hit. And designing a time 
fuse which would cause the shell to explode at the precise moment 
when it passed near to the aircraft was beyond even the scien- 

The Harvey's 3-inch rocket, however, gave them room to experi- 
ment with more ambitious mechanism, and the outcome was an 
uncanny robot which itself determined the right moment to explode 
by responding to the changes in the intensity of light near to an air- 
craft in the sky. ^ 

This 'proximity fuse' was the forerunner of an American fuse, 
based on a principle akin to radar, which was used so successfully 
later in the war to destroy enemy flying bombs. 

The new fuse was Top Secret. So Top Secret, in fact, that when 
Cooke arrived to install three Harvey Projectors in the steamship 
Atteghany, refitting at Belfast, and prised open the packing-cases 
containing their ammunition he stared in amazement. Instead of 
the normal bronze A.D. fuse they had been using ever since their 
first experiments at Aberporth he saw a sinister black object, some, 
1 8 inches long, with what looked like a lens forming a ring right 
round the upper part of the nose. 

While he was staring at it an R.N. Commander came into the 
naval store. 

"We've had a signal that you're not to fit any Harvey fuses or 
even touch them yet. Your people are sending some alleged expert 
over by 'plane, and you're to wait for him before you do anything. 
Have you brought an ammeter?" 

"Ammeter?" said Cooke blankly. "What for, sir?" 

"I imagine it might be for measuring electric current," said the 
Commander, with heavy sarcasm. "Don't you know anything about 
these fuses at all?" 

"No, sir. I've never seen one before." 

"Nor have I and I don't want them lying about here. As soon 


as this expert arrives you're to get them out of this store. Why your 
people can't send properly qualified officers who know what they're 
doing I can't imagine." 

The Commander was in a thoroughly bad humour, and the 
arrival of a civilian named Horsley later that afternoon made mat- 
ters worse. 

"So you've turned up at last," barked the Commander. "How 
long will it take you to fit these fuses ?" 

" It's rather difficult to say till I've had a look at them." 

"What!" roared the Commander. "You're an expert on the 
damned things and you don't know?" 

"As a matter of fact, sir," said Horsley apologetically, "I think 
there must be some mistake. I do know a little about this fuse, but 
it's got a top security grading. The only two people in our section 
who are fully in the. picture are Commander Goodeve and 
Lieutenant-Commander Norway, and they were both away on duty 
when this job came through." 

"Well," said the Commander grimly, "you'd better find out more 
about it pretty quickly. We can't keep the Alleghany here any later 
than to-morrow, and you've got seventy-five rounds to fuse before 
she sails. And get these boxes out of this store first. I'm not having 
any explosions here through young idiots playing with crack-brained 
devices they don't understand, see?" 

Cooke and Horsley had an equally chilly reception when they 
went on board the Alleghany with their cases of rockets. Another 
banana ship flying the White Ensign, she had just finished fitting out 
as an anti-aircraft vessel, and she was bound for the Red Sea. 

Her R.N.R. Captain disliked new-fangled scientific devices on 
principle, and, having already heard an alarming report from the 
Commander of their alleged incompetence, he disliked Cooke and 
Horsley even more. 

"We shall be leaving harbour at 0800 to-morrow and going a few 
miles up the coast. I'm not wasting any time on these stunt weapons 
of yours. The sooner you fuse these rounds and get off my ship, the 
better understand?" 

Cooke and Horsley understood, and when they went ashore they 
held anxious conference. 

"What do you know about these confounded things?" asked 

"Not much. They've got this selenium cell and a small radio set 
in the nose. There's an electronic triggering device worked by a small 
H.T. battery, and that sets off the priming charge." 

"Yes, but what is it that actually starts the whole process?" 

"A change in the light," said Horsley. "It's a pretty tricky job, 


because so far no one's found a way of rendering the thing safe. And 
there's no means of telling when it's started functioning." 

" Well/' said Cooke. " We seem to be in for an interesting day." 
The following morning the Alleghany steamed fifteen miles up the 
coast of Northern Ireland, the lifeboats were secured, and the Cap- 
tain, who was in a worse humour than ever, ordered all hands off the 
upper deck. Cooke and Horsley were left in splendid isolation, and, 
working without a break, they soon fitted the new fuses to all seventy- 
five rounds. Then came the task of firing a trial round from all three 
projectors. They walked over to the Harvey on the poop. 

"It's no use just firing the rocket," said Cooke. "We've got to try 
the fuse out as well. What are we going to fire it at?" 

Horsley scratched his head. "It's supposed to go off when any 
shadow falls across the lens. Why not try it out on that cloud over 

Cooke elevated the projector, they counted "One, two . ; . three," 
and he flicked over the switch. The rocket left the rails with a rush 
and a roar, and, to their delight, they saw a white puff of smoke in 
the far distance. They were still congratulating themselves on this 
satisfactory performance when a bellow of anger came from the 

"What the hdl do you think you two damned young fools are up 
to? Look at my ship !" 

They turned and looked. To their horror, everything the bridge, 
the mast, the funnels was smothered in mashed potato. In their 
anxiety over the fuse they had completely forgotten the Harvey's 
terrific flame blast, and behind them when they fired the first round 
was a lazaret one of those latticed lockers for storing vegetables. 
Through this the blast had swept, pulping the entire contents and 
distributing them impartially over the upper deck ! 

Dejected at this anticlimax, Cooke and Horsley prepared to test 
the second projector, amidships on the port side. This increased their 
unpopularity, a huge balk of timber being hurled right across the 
deck and through one of the lifeboats ! But it was not until they tried 
the third and last projector that they struck really serious trouble. 
When Cooke pressed the firing switch the rocket remained inert on 
the rails. A hang-fire was what they had dreaded all along, and, as 
nothing was known about rendering the fuse safe once the compli- 
cated mechanism had become alive, the next step baffled them. At 
any moment the shell might explode, causing casualties and damage 
to every one and everything in tie vicinity. 

While they stood over the Harvey, wondering what the first move 
was, a cheerful voice boomed, "Can I give you an 'and, sir?" and an 
immense Chief Gunner's Mate appeared. 


"We've got a hang-fire," said Cooke. 

"You don't want to go worrying abaht that, sir," said the C.G.M. 
with massive assurance. "I'm a bit of an expert on *ang-fires. 'Ad 
two of them in the Nelson. If she 'asn't gone off thirty minutes from 
now we'll pitch 'er over the side." 

The round was eventually ditched without further mishap, but 
by this time the Captain had had more than enough of the Harvey 
Projector and its luckless operators. Ordering a boat to be lowered, 
he roared, "Put those two officers ashore," and with that Cooke and 
Horsley, unceremoniously dumped on the nearest beach, were left 
to find their way back to Belfast. It certainly had been an interesting 

The spring of 1941 brought a sharp increase in shipping losses. 
Enemy aircraft alone sank more than half a million tons mostly in 
coastal waters and the Harvey did not have to wait long for its 
baptism in action. Menhinick had fitted the Projector into an ocean 
boarding vessel, H.M.S. Patia, and on the evening of Sunday, 
April 27, he sailed in her on her maiden voyage in naval service. 

When she left South Shields Patia headed north, and by dusk she 
was approaching the Fame Islands. There had been no warning of 
enemy air activity, and Menhinick was in the wardroom when he 
heard a sudden stampede on the deck above and, almost simultane- 
ously, a loud roar of engines and the whistle of bombs. In the gather- 
ing darkness no one saw the Heinkel as it came in at wave-top height, 
and Patia shuddered as one bomb scored a near-miss on the port 

Patia 9 s gunners were waiting for it when the second attack came, 
but the aircraft, flying well below mast-head height, offered a diffi- 
cult target. Until it was almost on the ship they could not depress 
their weapons sufficiently to engage the 'plane. The barrage from the 
ship appeared to disconcert the bomb-aimer, however, and Men- 
hinick, manning his Harvey on the starboard side, saw two more 
bombs fall harmlessly. 

The Heinkel then went away in a wide circle and came back, 
much more slowly, from dead astern, raking the decks with machine- 
and cannon-gun fire, and causing heavy casualties. Among them 
were several of Menhinick's seamen gunners, and their places for the 
fourth and final attack were taken by cooks and stewards. 

Circling again, the Heinkel made its run in from the port quarter, 
and dropped a stick of three bombs very close together. One fell right 
under Patia 9 s stern ; one hit amidships ; and the third was a near-miss 
level with the bridge on the starboard side. The HemkeTs machine- 
gun fire had already smashed the sights from the Harvey, but when 
the 'plane was only a hundred yards or so away Menhinick got a 


direct hit on its tail with one of his rocket shells. The bomber yawed 
violently, a bright flash of light blazed out from under the fuselage, 
and the 'plane came down on the water off Patia's starboard bow. 

By now, however, the ship herself was a shambles, and sinking 
fast. Weak from loss of blood he had been shot in the neck Men- 
hinick crawled to a Garley Float, which was launched a shade too 
late, and was sucked down the funnel as the ship dived. The float 
bobbed free, but as it rose it struck the searchlight platform and the 
half-drowned men clinging to it were dragged under again. Miracu- 
lously enough, they were all still gripping it when the float finally 
surfaced, and they paddled away from the centre of the d6bris. 

Not far from them they saw the vast shape of the Heinkel, 
lying on the water. The Germans were busy launching a rubber 
dinghy, and, noticing this, an elderly pensioner, Chief Petty Officer 
Prior, dropped off the float and swam towards them. The only 
weapon he had was a large pocket-knife, but when he reached them 
he brandished this fiercely, threatening to rip the rubber dinghy to 
shreds unless they let him climb in. He then ordered the wet and 
frightened Germans to throw their revolvers overboard, and in- 
formed them in lurid and unmistakable English that they were his 
prisoners ! 

In the bitter cold and darkness of the North Sea the hours that fol- 
lowed were a nightmare. On one Carley Float Patia's captain and 
first-lieutenant died of exposure. Of the 18 men clinging to Men- 
hinick's float 12 froze to death, and when the French trawler Chassi- 
ron picked them up after six hours in the icy water another seaman 
died before they reached port. In all, 119 men of Patia's complement 
lost their lives. The Harvey had accounted for its first enemy air- 
craft, but the bitter cost of this lone action in the North Sea was yet 
another reminder of the 'price of Admiralty.' 



SINCE the departure of Admiral Somerville the Wheezers and 
Dodgers had been working virtually on their own, without any 
powerful advocate to help them in their battles. Considering 
their lowly status, they had already achieved a surprising amount, 
but Goodeve was well aware that they had roused opposition in cer- 
tain quarters. 

Hardly had the team been formed before moves were afoot to 
restrict its activities, and between the new, unorthodox, and rapidly 
expanding research section on the one hand and various permanent 
bodies connected with gunnery, naval construction, and the electrical 
side of the Navy on the other there was continual friction. 

This was not altogether surprising. The machine, rather than any 
individual, was to blame. 

As in any other large organization, the smooth running of the 
Admiralty depended on detailed delegation of responsibility, but 
whereas in a big commercial undertaking the efficiency of each self- 
contained unit is kept at a high pitch by the competition from rival 
firms there is not the same vital corrective factor in the life of a Ser- 
vice ministry. Indeed, one obvious safeguard which could easily be 
applied is actually suppressed by the insistence of the Treasury that 
there shall be no overlapping of responsibilities. Each department 
has its carefully circumscribed and jealously guarded sphere of influ- 
ence. In that realm it is supreme. 

The drawbacks of this system are plain. In commerce competition 
rapidly exposes the incorrect decision; a Service ministry, on the 
other hand, has not the same ready criteria by which decisions can 
be evaluated. 

In such a carefully compartmented world the apparent freedom 
of the Wheezers and Dodgers to trespass on the preserves of all and 
sundry cut right across tradition. The very existence of the new re- 
search section was a potential irritant; if one of the permanent 
departments condemned an idea and it was subsequently taken 
up successfully by Goodeve's team amour-propre was offended. 


Quite unwittingly some of the hustling young Reserve officers 
made matters worse by their initial ignorance of 'Admiralty pro- 
cedure. 9 Haste was rarely appreciated if it entailed any short- 
circuiting of established routine, but in their anxiety to get on with 
the job in hand some of the newcomers barged straight ahead on 
what seemed to them the most logical course. All too often they ran 
full tilt into difficulties which longer experience of the working of 
the machine would have enabled them to avoid. 

The chief source of friction lay with the Admiralty departments 
dwelling in inconvenient isolation at Bath. Partly for geographical 
reasons they often found themselves left right out of the picture until 
they were presented with a fait accompli in the shape of a new 
weapon or device suggested by the Wheezcrs and Dodgers at some 
hurriedly convened meeting in London where none of the Bath 
departments had been represented. The latter would then either 
have to accept it or instantly put forward alternative plans of their 
own. Not unnaturally they often felt that acceptance of a suggestion 
as it stood might well condemn them for not having thought of it 
earlier themselves. In other instances they might genuinely disagree 
with the proposed weapon or device from a technical point of view. 
If, however, they rejected the proposal altogether, and set to work 
to design a weapon of their own, much valuable time and money 
were liable to be needlessly wasted. 

Early in 1941 several attempts were made to get the Inspectorate 
of Anti-aircraft Weapons and Devices abolished altogether, but 
Wright, the Director of Scientific Research, whose opinion naturally 
carried much weight, refused to support these moves. He realized 
that the need for getting things done at high speed almost inevitably 
meant offending some people. 

Admiral Fraser, too, had good reason to know what Goodeve was 
achieving. It was suggested to him that the new organization should 
be disbanded and its officers distributed among other existing depart- 
ments, but he stoutly resisted this plan. He valued Goodeve's team 
as a separate entity, but he saw they needed greater authority. He 
therefore proposed to the First Sea Lord that the Wheezers and 
Dodgers hitherto, in football parlance, little more than a side on 
the fringe of the Third Division in the Admiralty League trying daily 
to compete with the big guns of the departments in Division I 
should themselves be raised to the status of a full-blown Admiralty 
department. After several attempts to find a suitable tide for a party 
whose interests covered the whole field of naval warfare some one 
suggested D.M.W.D., and they became the Department of Mis- 
cellaneous Weapon Development, with Captain G.O.C. Davies, 
R.N., a Gunnery specialist, as Director. 


This was the happiest of choices. "Jock" Davies, a natural leader 
with an engaging personality and a flair for getting the best out of 
every one, had much sea experience behind him he had fought at 
Jutland as a midshipman, and had been commander of the Nelson 
and he knew the Admiralty organization backwards. He came to 
the new department from a short spell at the Ordnance Board, where 
he had been concerned with some of Lindemann's rocket experi- 
ments, and he had taken a keen interest in Goodeve's work on the 
anti-aircraft problems of the Merchant Navy. 

Admiral Fraser knew this, and realized that Davies was just the 
man to smooth over many of the difficulties which had arisen in the 
Wheezers and Dodgers' dealings with other Admiralty departments. 
When he took over his new duties in March 1941 Gciodeve was for- 
mally appointed Deputy Director, and D.M.W.D. settled down, 
happy in the knowledge that they could now go ahead with their 
status fully recognized. 

A few days later the Prime Minister's concern over casualties to 
merchant ships led him to issue a special directive. *'The Admiralty 
will have the first daim on all the short-range A.A. guns and other 
weapons they can mount upon suitable merchant ships plying in the 
danger area," he ruled. 1 In addition to the rocket weapons already 
undergoing trials, D.M.W.D. had for some time been working to 
adapt for sea service an ingenious Royal Air Force device called the 
Parachute and Gable or P.A.C. and soon their efforts brought 
forth success. 

The name of Schermuly had been familiar to seamen for more 
than half a century. Old William Schermuly had invented the life- 
saving rocket apparatus adopted by navies and merchant fleets 
throughout the world, and when the war came the firm's long experi- 
ence of explosives was put to full use by the Services. To their factory, 
hidden in a Surrey wood, came demands for all manner of devices, 
and one urgent need explained to the three Schermuly sons now 
directing the destinies of this unusual family business was for a 
form of airfield defence against low-flying aircraft. 

The brothers quickly designed a powerful rocket which could 
carry a steel cable up to a height of 500 feet; on the end of the cable 
was a parachute. 

By this means an aerodrome ringed with PA.C.'s could provide 
its own emergency 'balloon barrage' at the touch of a switch, and 
enemy pilots soon found that low-level raids brought a new hazard. 
At the height of the Battle of Britain one Dornier blew up over 
Kenley after its port wing had been torn dean off by a P A.C. 

1 Sir Winston Churchill, The Second World War, VoL III, The Grand Alli- 
ance (Cassell, 1950), p. 1 08. 


In the Admiralty it was soon realized that the device might be 
a valuable deterrent at sea. Aircraft attacking a ship at masthead 
height could drop their bombs with deadly accuracy, but if they 
were forced to bomb from a greater height the results might be very 
different. Although the P.A.C. had never been tried out at sea, it 
seemed doubtful whether a pilot would be keen to hold on his course 
if he knew that at any moment he might become entangled with a 
mass of wire and the dragging deadweight of an open parachute. 
So it proved, but first D.M.W.D. had to tackle several interesting 

Two parachutes were used, one at each end of the cable, and in 
early trials on a Devon moor it was found that the bottom para- 
chute often failed to open at the critical moment. This difficulty was 
overcome by the insertion of a special explosive link. The rocket had 
to be made completely waterproof, and some means had to be found 
of preventing the wire from kinking. A kink in the wire sometimes 
led to the cable breaking under sudden stress, but patient research 
showed that this could be cured if the shape of the canisters in which 
the wire lay coiled was altered. 

It was a fascinating apparatus. To make the parachutes 
D.M.W.D. enlisted the aid of the soft-furnishing department of a 
well-known Oxford Street store, and, using linen and nylon cord, 
the firm produced a tremendously strong canopy. One of the para- 
chutes pulled the wing right off an old Wellington which was lent 
to D.M.W.D. for trials, and later on a German aircraft which had 
the misfortune to pick up several PA.C.'s at once was literally 
dragged to a standstill in mid-air. 

At first Richardson took charge of the naval experiments, but after 
a while he handed over the work to James Close, a tall, genial young 
R.N.V.R. lieutenant with a Cambridge engineering degree. Close 
wore spectacles, but in spite of his indifferent eyesight he had some- 
how managed to wangle his way into the Navy as engineer of an 
ancient armed yacht which eventually fell to pieces off the coast of 
Scotland. Development of the P.A.G. was his first task when he 
joined the department. His duties often took him to the Schermuly 
factory, and there he learnt something of the art of filling (or 'stem- 
ming') the rockets. This highly skilled job was carried out by men 
working in separate cubicles with shields of armour plate between 
the rocket and the stemmer. Peering through a thick glass slit above 
the armour, they would pour in the black powder, cupf yd by cupful, 
and tamp it down with small boxwood mallets. Occasionally there 
were moments of high drama. A rocket would catch fire, and the 
stemmers would dart from their armour-plated cubicles like grey- 
hounds from a trap ! 


When the first P.A.G.'s were fitted to merchant ships there was the 
inevitable tussle before the Admiralty could persuade anyone to give 
them a proper trial in action. Perhaps it was not surprising that in 
the sudden moment of attack first thoughts went to manning what- 
ever guns the ship had; the mysterious rocket apparatus was only 
remembered when it was too late. 

By the spring of 1941, however, encouraging reports began to 
come in. The mate of one small ship in convoy, the Fireglow, was 
standing near the windward P.A.C. when a heavy air attack de- 
veloped. Seeing one German bomber diving at the Fireglow from 
dead ahead, he pulled the lanyard, and up soared the cable. A large 
section of the 'plane's wing was dragged off by the wire, and the 
aircraft came down in the sea. 

Skipper Soames, of the Milford Queen, had another successful 
encounter, with a Dormer 17. His guns had hit the bomber on its 
approach run, and when the P.A.C. was fired it wrapped itself firmly 
round the Dormer's wing. Losing height rapidly, the aircraft disap- 
peared into the haze, and a few seconds later the Milford Queen's 
crew heard a loud explosion. Skipper Soames was certain that his 
P.A.C. had destroyed the attacker. 

The success of the device depended largely on the operator's 
judgment. It was no use waiting until the aircraft was right over the 
ship. When the s.s. Stanlake was attacked by a Heinkel her captain 
was able to estimate its distance very accurately in the bright moon- 
light, and, putting his helm hard over, he fired a P.A.C. when the 
'plane was still several hundred yards off. 

By the time the parachute opened the Heinkel was right on to the 
cable. "I had seen our bullets hitting the forepart of the bomber 
with little effect," he said, when he was interrogated later, "but after 
I fired my P.A.C. the Heinkel sheered violentiy, and I thought he 
was going to carry my bridge away. For a moment the pilot seemed 
to regain control, but when he was about 900 yards from us, and 
hidden in the darkness, we heard his engines suddenly stop 

Soon significant evidence began to filter from the German side. An 
enemy bomber pilot on leave was overheard by one of our agents 
discussing the hazards he had to face. "It's no joke, I can tell you," 
he complained. "The English are shooting up these spirals from 
their ships, and you're lucky to get home at all with a thing like that 
wound round your airscrew." The captured crew of a Junkers 88 
were interrogated. They had been carrying out regular shipping 
reconnaissance flights, and from one of these, off the East Coast, 
they struggled back to their base with a huge gash in one wing, 
between the engine nacelle and the fuselage. "We could not under- 


stand it. It looked as if it had been caused by a wire attached to a 
rocket," said their captain. 

Greatly encouraged, the department went to work on larger and 
more lethal versions of the Parachute and Cable. One, ominously 
entitled the "Fast Aerial Mine," had an explosive charge attached 
to the wire, and Dove, experimenting with an early mod$ of this 
formidable contraption on Haldon Moor, in Devon, had a memor- 
able misadventure. The parachute failed to open, and the mine, 
which was filled with a special coloured liquid, fell through the roof 
of a cottage, smothering the whole interior with a vivid pink dye. 

Close also had some eventful experiences with an apparatus called 
"Type J," which had a bigger parachute, a larger rocket than the 
standard P.A.C., and a 5-ton cable which the rocket could haul up 
to 600 feet. The trials of this device were carried out in a desolate 
area on the Somerset coast, but there was farmland near by. Type J 
fired with a brilliant flash, accompanied by a noise like vast sheets 
of calico being ripped apart, and this invariably stampeded horses 
and cattle for miles around. On one occasion it so startled two horses 
pulling a reaper that they broke into a full gallop with the cumber- 
some machine and charged a bank bordering the field. In due course 
the Director of Naval Accounts received a stiff bill for broken cutter 
blades, and this agricultural item was duly charged to scientific 

At sea, too, the P.A.C. occasionally provided light relief. A certain 
coaster on passage from Dover to Hull had two of the rockets in- 
stalled, and the firing lanyards straggled somewhat untidily from 
the mounting into the whedhouse. Off the Essex coast the ship was 
suddenly attacked by a dive-bomber, and her master, hearing the 
roar of the 'plane, rushed from his cabin to the bridge. As he entered 
the wheelhouse he tripped over the lanyard of the starboard P.A.C. 
and fell flat on his face, knocking out several front teeth. There was 
wild cheering, and he picked himself up angrily; he objected to 
being made a laughing-stock by his crew. The uproar on deck, how- 
ever, was for a very different reason. A million-to-one chance had 
come off! In falling he had fired the P.A.C. with his foot, and the 
German 'plane, flying straight into the trailing wire, had plunged 
headlong into the water ! 

Equally remarkable but less satisfactory was the sequence of events 
on board another merchant ship in coastal convoy. She was flying 
from her main topmast the usual barrage balloon. A gust of wind blew 
the cover off the spare binnacle, and this fell on the lanyard connected 
to the P.A.C. projector. The rocket fired, and the P.A.C. scored a 
direct hit on the balloon, which burst into flames. Its cable, falling 
over the stern, became wound round the propeller, and this imme- 


diately acted as a winch. Before the master realized what had hap- 
pened the topmast was pulled out of the ship ! 

The threat of the P.A.G. led to a radical change in enemy tactics. 
For a time the German pilots, learning that the rocket devices were 
mounted on the bridge, switched the direction of their low-levd 
attacks, coming in across the stern. To counter this additional 
P.A.C.'s were placed on the poop, and before long the old attacks at 
masthead height were abandoned altogether. 

Early in 1943 the apparatus came off the Secret List, and 
D.M.W.D. were able to tell the workers in the Surrey factory some- 
thing of what the device had achieved. Nine enemy aircraft were 
known to have been destroyed, and at least thirty-five ships claimed 
that they had been saved from destruction by the 'spirals' which the 
German air crews feared so much. 


Ethe department's new title, C M' stood for Miscellaneous, 
roodeve interpreted this in the widest sense, and although his 
iam naturally concentrated on their own research and develop- 
ment programme they lent a willing hand with many projects on 
which they were consulted by other naval departments and, indeed, 
by the Army and R.A.F. as well, for there was no exact counterpart 
of D.M.W.D. in the sister-Services. 

Training men in the use of new weapons and devices became an 
important part of their activities. Already D.M.W.D. had set up a 
range for rocket weapons on the southern arm of the breakwater at 
Portland, and Merchant Navy gunners were sent there from the 
ports for instruction. While hundreds of ratings were going through 
the Portland course Cooke his experiments with flame-throwers 
now at an end was dispatched to Tyneside to start a similar school 
for men from the trawlers and other coastal craft in which "Holman 
Projectors" had been fitted. 

As unorthodox in its way as any of D.M.W.D/s own rocket 
weapons, the Holman was probably the first and only steam-gun to 
be used in modern warfare. It was conceived and built by private 
enterprise in the grey, windswept town of Camborne, which for 
generations had sent mining machinery to all parts of the world. The 
Holman family had been associated with that great engineer Richard 
Trevithick, maker of the first steam locomotive, and their engineering 
works, flourishing with the prosperity of the Cornish tin-mining 
industry, continued to prosper when prosperity left the mines of 
Cornwall. They made compressors and drills which helped to hew 
out the network of London's Underground Railway; their equip- 
ment was used for the salvage of the German Fleet from the sea-bed at 
Scapa Flow. And in September 1939 Treve Holman, great-grandson 
of Trevithick's partner, pondered how the resources of the Camborne 
works could play their part in the war effort. The firm specialized in 
compressed-air plant, and as he recalled the Stokes mortar of the First 
World War an idea suddenly came to him for a compressed-air gun. 

Within a fortnight of the start of the war the first experiments 


proved that the plan was feasible. A tube connected to a compressed- 
air supply hurled a short steel bar twenty feet into the air. Modi- 
fications were made, and an 1 8-pound weight was thrown nearly a 
hundred yards. At this stage the Director of Naval Ordnance, Cap- 
tain John Leach, R.N., heard of the new weapon taking shape in 
Cornwall, and he encouraged Treve Holman to go ahead, suggesting 
that the Projector should be developed to fire Mills grenades fitted in 
metal containers with open tops. In point of fact, this unusual gun 
could fire almost anything, for the barrel was not rifled, and early on 
some very successful results were achieved with loaded cigarette tins! 
When the Projector was taken out on to the bleak Victory Inn Moor 
at Porthtowan one of these tins was fired to a height of 650 feet. 

In February 1940 the Holman Projector went to Whale Island 
for an official trial. Six other new weapons were lined up before a 
critical gathering of gunnery experts, and the nervous Holman team 
were relieved when one of the rival devices showed signs of tempera- 
ment, a rocket shell disappearing on an entirely unpredicted course 
over Portsmouth. The Holman Projector's own dbut was, however, 
far more humiliating. Commander R. T. Young, Whale Island's 
chief experimental officer, dropped the container holding the Mills 
grenade down the barrel, but instead of it being instantly ejected to 
a height of 600 feet there was a faint dick and the grenade rolled 
gently out of the barrel, falling to the ground ten yards in front of 
the serried ranks of distinguished visitors. With one accord they all 
flung themselves flat on their faces and waited for the explosion. 

When, after an agonizing pause, nothing happened Young leapt 
to his feet. Bravely snatching up the grenade, he threw it into a 
bucket of water. No one quite fathomed why a bucket of water 
should discourage a Mills grenade from exploding, and when the 
bomb was examined later it was, in fact, found to be a dummy. 
Only half the weight of a live bomb, it had not been heavy enough 
to actuate the main air-valve at the base of the barrel. 

For the rest of that morning the new Projector behaved perfectly, 
and as a result the Admiralty immediately placed an order for^a 
thousand. The Holmans were to be made entirely of material in 
ready supply cast iron and mild steel and the ammunition was 
to be the standard type of Mills grenade with a 3'5-seconds fuse. 
High-pressure air bottles could each supply the power for about fifty 
rounds, and the weapon would fire thirty rounds a minute. A month 
later the initial batch was sent to Aberdeen, and the compressed-air 
guns had only been in service three weeks when a trawler claimed 
the first success, damaging a Heinkel. By this time Treve Holman 
and his technicians at Camborne had made some interesting experi- 
ments in a new direction. 


Leach rang him up one day from Bath. 

"We want to fit a lot more of your Projectors to steam trawlers. 
Can you adapt the thing to use steam instead of compressed air?" 

Treve Holman thought for a moment. "I don't see why not. How 
soon do you want a report?" he asked. 

"This week if possible," said Leach. "The skippers are howling for 
them. And I'll tell you something interesting. Some of them have 
been loosing off three or four of your bombs in quick succession 
whenever they've sighted a German 'plane and every time the 
aircraft has made off immediately. We think it's that puff of smoke 
that scares them." 

The Holman bombs had one strange idiosyncrasy. They exploded 
in the air with a large puff of black smoke a peculiarity absent in 
any detonation of similar grenades on the ground. Seeing these heavy 
bursts, the German bomber pilots evidently concluded that the 
trawlers were armed with some much more powerful quick-firing 
automatic weapon, and they were giving them a wide berth. So far, 
so good. Now the problem was to make the gun work by steam. 
Obviously it was a sensible development, for the trawlers had great 
reserves of steam immediately available, but Treve Holman and his 
chief assistants, Maurice Oram and Richard Gilbert, were none too 
sure that the heat of the steam would not explode the bomb while it 
was still in the barrel. 

A 'phone call to the Cornwall County Council secured the loan 
of a steamroller and its driver, and when this reached the moor at 
Porthtowan they ran a pipe from its boiler to the base of the Pro- 
jector. The driver of the roller then raised his steam-pressure to 200 
pounds, and after a bomb had been placed in position the party of 
experimentalists all retired to a safe distance while the escaping 
steam eddied round it. They allowed the bomb to c cook' for twenty 
minutes, and then, concluding that fears of a premature explosion 
were groundless, they carried out firing trials. Tested under 80 
pounds' pressure from the steamroller, the Holman Projector threw 
a heavy metal weight a distance of 90 feet, and as soon as they 
reported successful progress in this direction the resourceful Captain 
Leach suggested another alteration in the design of the gun. On 
board the trawlers, often at sea for long periods in wild weather, it 
was difficult to give enough attention to any sort of weapon. He saw 
that, with the new type of Holman, valves were likely to rust, and 
steam would: condense in the pipes so that just a dribble of water 
emerged instead of the pressure needed to hurl the grenade into the 
air. The principle of the Stokes Mortar was therefore abandoned, 
and, instead of the bomb being dropped down the barrel and ejected 
instantaneously, a firing trigger was devised. This removeid the 


danger of the bomb, in its tin container, firing prematurely and 

By the late spring of 1941 the Projector was beginning to make 
quite a name for itself. A training school was opened at Camborne, 
and from as far as Stornoway ratings were sent there for a week's 
course. They spent two days filing on the range and three days at the 
works attending lectures on maintenance and learning how to strip 
and reassemble the gun which the trawler men had christened the 
"Potato Thrower." When two ships met at sea it became a regular 
practice to fight mock battles, each crew bombarding the other with 
potatoes fired from their Holmans, and this game was taken up with 
great enthusiasm by the craft of Coastal Forces on their way back to 
base from sweeps along the enemy coast. 

Soon the Projector was fitted to destroyers, minesweepers, and 
motor-gunboats, as well as hundreds of small coastal vessels, and one 
of the compressed-air guns was even mounted on the top of 
Admiralty Arch. Eventually the Prime Minister asked for a demon- 
stration at Aldershot. For this the team from Camborne took no 
ammunition. With its smooth bore the Holman Projector could be 
fed with almost anything, and already it had been tested with anti- 
tank grenades and Molotov cocktails the glass-bottle bombs con- 
taining phosphorus and petrol. Treve Holman assumed that some 
form of ammunition would be provided for them on this occasion, 
but when they arrived at the range they found that the Army had 
overlooked this altogether. 

With Mr Churchill waiting somewhat impatiently, the situation 
was only saved when somebody remembered the half-dozen bottles 
of beer they had brought with them for a picnic lunch. The first one 
exploded ii* the barrel, but, to the delight of the Prime Minister 
always fascinated by new devices the remainder scored direct hits 
on the target, amid a flurry of froth. "A very good idea, this weapon 
of youis," he said approvingly; "it will save our cordite." After 
praise from such a quarter the small party from Cornwall felt the 
loss of their lunch-time ale well worth while ! 

A few days after the Aldershot demonstration news reached Cam- 
borne of a spectacular action at sea in which the Holman Projector 
proved its worth. Armed with only a Lewis and one of the 
compressed-air guns, a small merchantman, the s.s. Highlander, was 
attacked at night off the East Coast of England by two Dornier 
bombers. The first 'plane was shot down almost immediately, and 
when the second Dornier came in the Highlander's gunners got fur- 
ther hits, a Holman bomb bursting in the root of the wing. The big 
bomber lurched on towards them, losing height, and after a wing- 
tip had hit one of the lifeboats the aircraft slewed round and crashed 


on the little steamer's poop. In his story of the Merchant Navy at 
war 1 Sir Archibald Kurd has told how next morning the gallant 
little Highlander steamed into harbour with the wreckage of the 
Dornier still strewn all over the after part of the ship. Her total 
casualties in this successful action were two wounded. 

Out in the Atlantic a much bigger ship, the s.s. Thirlby, bound 
from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Britain with 8000 tons of wheat, also 
used the new weapon with great effect. Her Holman Projector, 
bravely manned throughout by the Chief Officer in spite of a hail of 
cannon shells, eventually drove off a giant Focke-Wulf which had 
used doud cover to carry out a surprise attack. Although badly 
damaged, with one hold flooded and open to the sea, the Thirlby 
limped into Loch Ewe with her precious cargo. 

In its first year the Projector claimed at least a dozen enemy air- 
craft destroyed. Mark III was then introduced a semi-automatic 
and much more powerful version which fired two or three grenades 
simultaneously to a height of 1000 feet and the Admiralty ordered 
another thousand of these. 

No one was more delighted at the success of this unconventional 
weapon than the Admiralty's Director of Naval Ordnance, Captain 
Leach, a tall, good-looking man with an engaging sense of humour. 
From the start he had taken a keen interest in the Projector, and 
throughout the early stages of development lengthy letters in his 
small, clear handwriting arrived almost weekly, offering suggestions 
which he embellished with his own neat sketches. He had never 
regarded the Holman as anything more pretentious than a stop-gap 
until the Oerlikon became widely available, but it had exceeded his 
expectations, and the progress of the gun owed much to his encour- 
agement and advice. When the time came for him to go to sea again 
he was given command of the Prince of Wales. And from the 
Admiralty came a message that the battleship's new captain had 
asked for one of the Mark III Projectors to be fitted in his personal 

On October 23, 1941, Leach sailed from the Clyde as Flag Cap- 
tain to Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, Commander-in-Chief designate in 
the Far East. The Camborne firm felt they were losing a friend as 
well as a wise counsellor. Before the end of the year came news of 
the disaster which overtook the Prince of Wales and Repulse off 
the coast of Malaya. John Leach, one of 839 men to lose their lives, 
went down with his ship. 

Another of the Navy's outstanding figures who played no small 
pait in the development of the Camborne gun was Lieutenant- 
Commander Robert Hichens, R.N.V.R. A solicitor in Falmouth, 
1 Britain's Merchant Navy, edited by Sir Archibald Hurd (Odhams, 1 944). 


only a few miles away from the Holman works, Hichens had earned 
a great reputation before the war as an international 14-foot-dinghy 
sailor. Joining the R.N.V.R., he became the master tactician of 
Coastal Forces and commanded the first flotilla of motor-gunboats 
on the East Coast, harrying enemy shipping off Ijmuiden and the 
Hook. The Holman Projector was particularly suitable for the lightly 
built, high-speed Coastal Force craft, for it had very little deck thrust, 
and Hichens developed a new technique for using it against E-boats. 
Going in to attack, he would split his flotilla into two sections, and 
when the enemy were sighted one section would menace the E-boats 
by firing flares over them with the Holmans at a certain angle. Turn- 
ing away, as they invariably did, the enemy force would run head- 
long into the second section of M.G.B.'s, powerfully armed with 
Oerlikons, which Hichens had disposed on their flank. 

The gallantry of this quiet, self-effacing young officer, who won 
the D.S.O. twice and three D.S.C.'s, was matched by his tactical 
leadership. He took a lively interest in gunnery problems, and while 
the Projector was undergoing its gradual development he had many 
discussions with Treve Holman. On one of his leaves in London 
early in 1 943 they were dining together when he reached for the menu 
card. On the back of this he sketched out the design of a Mark IV 
"Potato-thrower" which he wanted for Coastal Forces. His drawing 
outlined a simpler, lighter, and smaller version, with a short barrel 
and a swivel mounting. 

Treve Holman took the menu card back to Camborne, and the 
works produced a prototype which was sent to Hichens at Dover. It 
was then April, and on the night of Friday the i6th in that month, 
before he had had time to try out the new Projector, Hichens led his 
forces to sea. They joined action with a pack of E-boats, and in a run- 
ning battle Hichens himself was killed by the last random shot fired 
by the enemy at extreme range as they broke off the engagement. 

With his death the plans for the fourth and most advanced of the 
Holman guns was abandoned. The tide had turned, and more 
advanced weapons superseded the little mortar which had given 
such valiant service. In various other r61es, however, the Holman 
Projectors continued to play a useful part. They were used at Gibral- 
tar to discourage raids by midget submarines; they were adapted to 
fire grapnels for the Commandos in cliff assaults; and D.M.W.D. 
carried out tests with them for attacking enemy Charioteers. 

In all 4500 of these unusual guns powered by compressed air or 
steam saw active-service in the war at sea, and to-day one of them 
has a place of honour in the museum attached to the Holman works 
at Camborne. Scarred and dented, it is the weapon which brought 
the Dornier crashing on to the poop of the little Highlander. 



Other methods of striking down the hostile bomber were sought 
tirelessly, and for many months to come these efforts were spurred by 
repeated, costly, and bloody raids upon our ports and cities. 


Vol. II, p. 346 

PERHAPS the strangest and most spectacular of all the projects 
which D.M.W.D. undertook in the early days was the "Free 
Balloon Barrage." 

From September 7 to November 3, 1940, an average of 200 Ger- 
man bombers pounded London every night, and at the height of the 
Blitz the Prime Minister called a midnight meeting at Number 10 
Downing Street. On the agenda was a remarkable proposal to 
strike at the raiders by firing into the sky a curtain of wire supported 
by parachutes. 

Among the naval officers summoned to the meeting was Captain 
Davies, who had not yet been appointed to D.M.W.D. He was still 
serving at the Ordnance Board, whose job it was to examine all 
weapons and ammunition before they passed into use in the three 
fighting Services, and he had recently been called into consultation 
over a scheme of Professor Lindemann's for carrying wires into the 
air in 6-inch shells. Trials showed this to be impracticable, but the 
Downing Street meeting, with the Prime Minister in the chair, soon 
revealed that the essence of the plan had not been abandoned. It 
was now suggested that, in place of the shells, huge rockets should 
be used to lay an aerial minefield. 

The idea of wires in the sky was by no means new. The P.A.C. 
was already proving its value at sea, and on board some warships 
was mounted a multiple projector later used with some success 
ashore at Tobruk which threw up bombs and masses of wire in 
greater profusion. The Prime Minister had taken a personal interest 
in this latter device, and, noticing one of them mounted on top of 
H.M.S. Nelson's C B 9 turret when he paid a visit to the battleship at 
Scapa Flow, he had called for it to be fired. 


The result on that occasion was unfortunate, for not enough 
allowance was made for the wind, and one of the wires drifted back 
on to the ship, where it became entangled with the wireless spur on 
the mainmast and exploded violently. Mr Churchill was quite 
unperturbed. His cigar remained clenched tightly between his teeth, 
and, staring up at the mast, he observed drily, " I think there's some- 
thing not quite right about the way you are using this new weapon 
of mine." On his return to London he had sent for Davies and 
dispatched him immediately to Scapa Flow to explain to Admiral 
Sir John Tovey, in the Nelson, how the rocket device should be 

At the midnight meeting it was obvious that the idea of a whole 
minefield, laid in the sky by somewhat similar means, had captured 
the Prime Minister's imagination. He listened impatiently as the 
technical difficulties were argued backward and forward, and then 
said firmly, "I want a square of wire in the sky as big as the Horse 
Guards Parade, with parachutes holding it in place. We need four 

hundred projectors and four million rounds of ammunition 

Just think of the difficulty for an aircraft trying at the last minute 
to avoid a thing the size of the Horse Guards, gentlemen !" 

The experts were sent away to cogitate on the many problems 
involved, and while they were wrestling with the suspension method 
and the rockets the idea of a minefield in the sky was put up to 
Goodeve and his team from a different source altogether. 

A Commander Fraser, serving in the Admiralty Boom Defence 
organization, which handled the supply of wire rope for the Navy, 
brought to D.M.W.D. a plan of his own for hanging wires from 
balloons. He suggested that if a cloud of these balloons was released 
in an area through which the bombers were flying tremendous toll 
could be taken, and Richardson was detailed to look into the 

When he first thought about Fraser's plan he recalled a strange 
and formidable device he had come across in a store at Exeter some 
months before while carrying out some of his early rocket experi- 
ments. Called the "Long Aerial Mine," it consisted of a network of 
bombs and wire, and had been designed for the RA.F. as a lethal 
surprise packet, to be dropped from bombers in the path of unwary 
attackers. Obviously it would be an advantage to embody this ready- 
made device in the new scheme if a compromise was possible, and he 
went to Exeter to examine it more closely. The Long Aerial Mine 
obstinately refused, however, to fit into the picture. After some days 
of further experiment in the West Country, Richardson transferred 
his researches to the Balloon establishment at Cardington, and gradu- 
ally a novel and ingenious device took shape which demanded 


neither aircraft to launch it from the sky nor rockets at that stage 
unreliable as carriers of equipment to lift it from the ground. 

The Free Balloon Barrage, as it was eventually known, consisted 
of hundreds of separate units. Each had its own large rubber balloon 
filled with hydrogen, and suspended from this was a yellow metal 
container, shaped like a biscuit tin; a large wooden spool carrying 
2000 feet of thin piano wire; and a parachute. 

The theory of operating the F.B.B. was simple enough. When the 
balloon reached a certain height a special mechanism came into play. 
This released the vast length of trailing wire, which had a parachute 
to anchor the lower end. At the same time the yellow container a 
small but powerful bomb swinging on a board beneath the balloon 
became alive. 

From this moment any moving object which came into contact 
with the wire set in motion a swift train of unpleasant events. When 
the air billowed into the parachute, the wire tautened, and the bomb 
was dragged down towards the target. As it struck, a spring rim 
which surrounded the outside of the container was tilted out of its 
normal position, and the bomb exploded instantaneously. 

As the design of the new infernal machine took shape it seemed 
brilliantly free from complications, but in early trials the behaviour 
of the F.BJB. proved quite unpredictable. After a certain time in 
the air the apparatus was supposed to destroy itself, but if there was 
a leak in the balloon it would float gently to earth in a highly dan- 
gerous state, and it was never easy, even for the experts, to determine 
precisely what stage the intricate mechanism had reached at any 
given moment. 

This would not have mattered so much if the public could have 
been warned to leave these strange objects severely alone but the 
F.B.B. was Top Secret. A.R.P. wardens in the London district had 
to be let into this secret to a certain extent, but the 'mechanism of 
the device could not be explained to them. They were merely told 
that on certain nights, "when weather and other conditions are suit- 
able," a new form of night defence might be operated. The appre- 
hensive wardens were f urther counselled that if they sighted one of 
these mysterious contrivances during the hours of darkness, and "a 
light appears to be burning underneath the hood, an explosion may 
be imminent." In such circumstances they were advised to take cover 
for thirty minutes after the light was extinguished; if they felt they 
must attack the apparatus without delay the authorities could only 
suggest that they attempted to subdue it with fierce jets of water 
"from behind some substantial cover such as a brick wall." 

If the exploding mechanism of the F.B.B. was somewhat erratic 
at the start the antics of the balloons on their trial voyages across the 


night sky were even more eccentric. They were only sent up when 
the wind was blowing at a certain strength and direction, but how- 
ever painstakingly the meteorologists prepared their forecasts for 
D.M.W.D. the weather rarely developed according to plan. 

In ideal conditions the F.B.B. units were supposed to operate over 
a limited area, but if a high wind sprang up unexpectedly the bal- 
loons were blown far and wide, and the next morning astonished 
householders as far away as Dorset and Devon would awake to find 
their homes and gardens festooned with wire. Seizing the 'phone, 
some would ring up the nearest military headquarters to report that 
paratroops had landed; others would get through to the Air Ministry 
or Home Office to announce that they had been attacked by a new 
secret weapon, and were barricading themselves in until help arrived ! 

The balloons, wires, and bombs fell across railway lines, stopping 
trains; they landed on high-tension cables and fused all the power 
for miles around; they came down in open fields, and farmers com- 
plained that they could not get their cows in for milking. In the 
department the aftermath of the early launchings was chaotic, and 
a special Flying Squad was formed to hare round the country in 
small plain vans recovering the apparatus before reckless civilians 
blew themselves to pieces. 

Two of the leading 'retrievers' were Tolman and Midshipman 
J. R. D. Francis, R.N.V.R., the youngest member of the depart- 
ment, who had made a name for himself by his ability ^to take to 
pieces F.B.B. bombs which had already armed themselves and were 
liable to explode at any moment. Like Norway and several others, 
Francis had never expected to find himself in a shore job. He had 
volunteered for sea service, but the fact that he had come out top of 
the University of London's examination list for a B.Sc. (Engineering) 
attracted the immediate and, for him, unwelcome attention of 
the Admiralty's C.W. Branch. Being many years younger than Nor- 
way and nearly every one else in the department, he could not pro- 
test so outspokenly, but nevertheless he managed to extract from 
Goodeve a promise that he should be released to go to sea at the 
first moment he could be spared. In the meantime he was establish- 
ing quite a reputation for energy and versatility and he was entirely 
unimpressed by any hazards he encountered. 

Tolman too had made something of a name in the Admiralty, 
where his demonstrations of "How to render an F.B.B. bomb safe" 
were delivered with a fearless confidence not always fully shared by 
his audience. Like Lane, who was always dismantling German 
booby-traps with a nail-file and a hammer, and scaring the life out 
of every one in the big room in which most of D.M.WJD.'s officers 
worked, Tolman genuinely enjoyed handling explosives, but even 


he was startled when he answered an SOS from the Dorset village of 
Piddletrenthide. A police constable reported that he had some 
strange objects in his back garden, and when Tolman arrived there 
in the Admiralty van he discovered, lying side by side in the yard, 
two of the familiar yellow containers with only two feet of wire still 
attached to each. 

"What an extraordinary thing ! Did they fall together just there?" 
he asked. 

"No!" said the policeman proudly. "I put them there myself." 

" But where is the rest of the wire?" 

"Well, you see ... it was like this," explained the constable cheer- 
fully. "These things came down in a field about a mile from here, so 
I cut off the wire and brought them back with me. I reckoned they'd 
be safer." 

Tolman stared at him in amazement. "How on earth did you 
move them here without blowing yourself up?" 

The constable peered at the two containers with a new interest. 
"You reckon these things are some sort of bomb, then?" he said, 
obviously impressed. "I just tied 'em on the handlebars of my bike 
and rode back here." 

It seemed almost unbelievable, but he had severed the wire with- 
out mishap, and had then cycled over a mile home with the bombs 
swinging freely against the frame of his bicycle. Miraculously, not 
once had the firing rim been disturbed ! 

Midshipman Francis had another experience of this 'beginner's 
luck.' Calling at a Hampshire farm, he said to the owner, "I hear 
you have a bomb somewhere on your land?" 

"That's right," said the farmer, "but it's safe enough now. I've 
taken her to pieces. You'll find the bits on the kitchen table." 

The little yellow tins looked so unpretentious that finders had few 
scruples about appropriating them as souvenirs. After one of the early 
launchings a recovery team was sent to Epping Forest. One of 
D.M.W.D.'s officers had some difficulty with an F.B.B. unit wedged 
in the upper branches of an oak-tree. He eventually cut it free, and 
was lowering it gingerly to the ground when a stranger who had been 
watching the operation with some interest called out sarcastically, "I 
reckon you chaps are making a lot of fuss about nothing. You're not 
telling me a little tin like that can do much harm !" This was too much 
for the young sub-lieutenant, who had already ruined an almost new 
uniform in his struggles in the tree-top, and, picking up the con- 
tainer, he hurled it into the undergrowth, where it exploded deaf en- 
ingly. The uninvited critic, blown flat on his back, was much im- 

On December 29, 1940, while the department were still working 


at high pressure to overcome the teething troubles of the apparatus, 
word came that the Free Balloon Bairage was to be given its 
first large-scale trial. It was the night of the big fire raid on Lon- 
don, and for some hours after dusk furious activity centred on 
Hatfield. The launching arrangements were on a prodigious scale, 
for to transport the hydrogen and other equipment to the windward 
side of London in the time available some 800 lorries and trailers 
were needed. Several hundred men of the R.A.F. handled the bal- 
loons; big tents, 12 feet high, were erected at the launching point, 
which covered an arc of some two miles; and inside these tents the 
balloons were inflated. 

D.M.WD.'s officers had their misgivings .over such an early 
test. There had not been time to give proper trial to all the different 
components of the Barrage, and Richardson, for one, feared a 

That night, at the height of the terrific raid on the capital, nearly 
2000 of the lethal balloons were dispatched skyward in two and a 
half hours, and as the D.M.W.D. party waited at the control centre 
at Hatfield the reports which flowed in confirmed their fears. The 
area over which the balloons were expected to drift had been mapped 
out in three zones. Some 30 per cent, of the units failed in Zone A, 
nearest to the launching site, because the wire had not run out 
smoothly or the balloons themselves had developed leaks. A further 
15 per cent, came down over London itself because the height- 
keeping mechanism an ingenious arrangement of small bags filled 
with sand failed to function, and the balloons, climbing far beyond 
their operational height, burst with the pressure. In Zone C another 
30 per cent, came to grief. One F.B.B. unit landed in the grounds of 
Buckingham Palace, some reached the South Coast, and several 
crossed the Channel to France. 

Messages reporting the discovery of straying F.B.B. bombs poured 
in from far and near, and to retrieve them all before they caused 
casualties or damage set D.M.W.D. a major problem. Dozens of Boy 
Scouts were roped in to help, and Francis, commandeering a fire- 
engine and several firemen, scoured the immediate district. Soon the 
police station nearest to the control point was crammed with wire 
and unexploded bombs. 

All the yellow containers sent up that night had, plainly painted 
on them, the legend "Danger Do Not Touch!" This, however, 
seemed to have a magnetic attraction for any civilians who came 
upon the tangles of bombs and wires. The fire-engine and its busy 
crew met one shopkeeper cycling along with four of the deadly 
yellow containers dangling from his handlebars. One bomb had 
lifted the roof off a house. Others were found hanging in trees; and, 


completely disregarding the warning, a farmer who had come across 
no fewer than fourteen of them, had dragged them all together in a 
comer of a field. Then, as the strangest of afterthoughts, he had piled 
dung on to them "to stop them blowing up." 

When all the reports came in the final analysis was depressing to 
the team who had worked so hard to get the apparatus ready, but 
before any radical alterations were made it was decided to stage a 
special test in Bedfordshire, and there, a few days later, 200 of the 
balloons -were sent aloft. The fuses were set to ensure that on this 
occasion the bombs and wires would all fall in a relatively small area. 
Even so an unexpected snag occurred. 

Fifty sailors had been loaned to D.M.W.D. to help with the 
recovery of the units for examination, but although marching in 
orderly lines through field after field and gazing intently to right 
and left they combed the countryside, their total bag was a meagre 
half-dozen. To men searching on foot the thin piano wire and yellow 
containers were almost invisible unless they stumbled right upon 
them. In desperation Richardson dismissed the sailors and drove to 
the nearest riding school, where he hired every hojse in the place for 
the afternoon. 

It was a successful and unforgettable experiment. Few of his team 
of R.N.V.R. officers had ever ridden before, and as hedges and 
ditches had to be jumped most of the volunteer horsemen fell off 
with painful regularity. Between them, however, they tracked down 
almost every bomb. When they got back to the Admiralty, aching in 
every limb, Richardson laid the bill from the riding school on Good- 
eve's desk and asked how payment should be made. Even his limited 
experience suggested that the Director of Naval Accounts would look 
askance at an account for the hire of fourteen horses! Like news- 
paper reporters, who acquire an uncanny skill in making out convin- 
cing expense sheets, any naval officer hoping to extract payment for 
expenses incurred on duty had first to study the art of presentation. 
In this connexion there was the well-known story of the junior 
officer, journeying on official duty with heavy baggage, who put in 
a modest daim for "Porters is" When this was disallowed a ship- 
mate of greater experience advised him to submit the charge again, 
this time ascribing it to "Porterage," and it was passed without 
demur. Encouraged to more picturesque efforts, he later secured pay- 
ment for several taxi fares itemized as " Cabbage" ! 

Sure enough, Richardson's account for the "hire of fourteen 
horses for the use of officers engaged on F.B.B. trials" was swiftly 
returned with a request for more information, and although he 
wrote across it "No alternative form of transport available" (the 
standard excuse given by naval officers for hiring taxis) the Navy 


Accountants next demanded to know why Admiralty vans had not 
been used. To this Richardson tersely replied, "Journey made over 
ploughed fields and hedges," and the correspondence ended 

When the gear launched near Bedford was examined in the 
department two main causes of failure were discovered. The wire 
was not unreeling smoothly when the balloons reached their opera- 
tional height, and the balloons themselves were misbehaving. The 
very thin, springy wire in use was wound round a big wooden spool. 
To stop it uncoiling prematurely, rubber tyres were fitted round the 
outside of the spool, but it still tended to kink up. This was a serious 
problem, for if the wire became tangled on release the vital para- 
chute at the lower end would fail to open. In addition, if an aircraft 
hit a kinked wire this would snap instantly, and the bomb would 
never come into action. By patient research the source of the trouble 
was finally located. As it unreeled the wire had to pass through a 
narrow hole in the board which held the bomb in place and the 
edges of these holes were not smooth enough. Lane, who could draw 
on a fund of unusual information, declared that the only instrument 
guaranteed to bore really smooth holes was a red-hot poker, so an 
emergency squad of fifteen R.N.V.R. lieutenants set to work in an 
attic in the Admiralty, heating pokers and thrusting them through 
the tfrin bomb platforms. Cooke, looking in to deliver a message, 
found them all weeping copiously as they toiled in a dense haze of 
acrid smoke from the singeing woodwork. 

The F.B.B, team then turned their attention to Failure Number 
Two. It seemed fairly evident that the safety-valve which was sup- 
posed to prevent the balloons from rising too high was not function- 
ing consistently. The balloons were meant to operate between 14,000 
and 18,000 feet, but many were climbing far above this. And when 
they burst under pressure the whole equipment came crashing to 

Intense cold might be causing the safety-valve to jam, so another 
D.M.W.D. team, consisting of Harris, Tolman, Lieutenant Duncan 
Bruce, R.N.V.R., and Lieutenant Tom Swan, R.N.V.R., were told 
to test this theory at a fruit research station in Kent, where there was 
a vast refrigerating chamber. A supply of hydrogen cylinders and 
four outfits of Arctic clothing were issued to them, and they set off 
for West Mailing. 

Bruce and Swan had only just joined D.M.W.D. Like Tolman, 
Swan had been a schoolmaster, teaching science, when war broke 
out, and, noting his name on the Central Scientific Register, the 
Admiralty had willed him up. To his surprise, he then found himself 
posted to the Signal School at Portsmouth, who were in no need of 


a scientist and could not think what to do with him. So he was sent 
on a Divisional Officer's course, and it was some time before 
D.M.W.D. were able to track him down. For him the memorable 
experiments at West Mailing were a prelude to intensive research on 
radar and anti-submarine devices for the department. Duncan 
Bruce, a young physicist who tackled many unusual jobs for 
D.M.W.D., was an engaging companion in any enterprise. He had 
a keen sense of humour, and his first assignment, at West Mailing, 
certainly provided plenty of unexpected entertainment for him. 

The task of the quartet was to observe the changes of buoy- 
ancy in the balloon when exposed to rapidly lowering tempera- 
ture. One by one they crawled into the refrigerating chamber, 
which was sealed after them, and sat shivering in front of a huge dial 
while the balloon floated above them. Isolated as they were from the 
outer world they found the silence oppressive, and the atmosphere 
made them so drowsy that they had increasing difficulty in jotting 
down the data they were collecting. 

Although on the first day they each spent only half an hour at a 
time in the chamber, they felt decidedly queer as they walked back 
to the guest-house. At tea Bruce set fire to his trousers without notic- 
ing it, and all of them retired to bed early, suffering from severe 
headaches. On the second day the after-effects were even more pro- 
nounced, and in some concern the proprietress rang up the nearest 

"I wonder if you could come and have a look at four of our 
guests," she said. "They're naval officers, and I think they're all 

When he arrived he was shown into the garden. Although rain 
was falling in torrents, Harris, Bruce, Tolman, and Swan were all 
sitting in deck-chairs on the lawn. Two of them were reading even- 
ing newspapers upside down, and all were howling with laughter! 
For two days, without realizing the gradual effect, they had been 
inhaling some mysterious gas from the fruit, and although they 
subsequently cut down the time spent in the chamber, and drew lots 
for their spells of duty, they were glad when the experiments were 

When some of the major alterations had been made to the appara- 
tus practice launchings were resumed in the London area. On nights 
when the Free Balloon Barrage was to be tried out Jamieson would 
hang a large white rabbit on the notice-board in the department and 
announce, "Albino to-night, everybody!" Harris, the tall young 
South African, who was a leading spirit in most of these trials, would 
then tour the room, extending invitations with the air of a man 
offering his guests a day's shooting. "Doing anything to-night?" he 


would ask. "I wonder whether you'd care to join me . . . Hendon, 
about 2230 hours. Should be good sport !" There was no shortage of 

The task of moving the equipment from place to place, and 
launching the units, was taken over by the Balloon Barrage organi- 
zation of the R.A.F., and headquarters were set up at North Weald, 
Stanmore, and two other centres. Life at the launching point had its 
hazards, for, as the fuse burnt through on the ascending bomb 
boards, out of the night sky came a shower of wooden spools on 
which the wire was wound. As these were 18 inches across and 
weighed 3 pounds they were liable to make a distinct impression 
when dropped from a height of several thousand feet! The appara- 
tus was much more consistent now, but on nights when the weather 
worsened occasional balloons still travelled immense distances. Those 
which strayed as far as France caused some confusion, and the 
Underground movement was soon reporting the arrival of 

mysterious objects of unknown origin in the sky over Ari&ge. They 
seem to have been brought to our district by the high wind of the 
last few days. Thfe balloons are white, with a steel wire hanging from 
them. They carry a board armed with a bomb which explodes 
immediately on contact. The police sent a brigadier and a gendarme 
to the spot, and when they pulled the wire to bring one balloon to 
the ground the engine exploded at a height of ten metres. The gen- 
darme received a wound in the stomach. Another of these engines 
exploded over a farm at Galles, breaking some windows. 

A French newspaper, reporting the explosion of an F.B.B. unit in 
the canton of Mas d'Azil, announced that "the balloon, which was 
deposited with the police, has been sent to the military authorities 
at Toulouse, who have passed it on to technical experts." The news- 
paper added omnisciently : 

In spite of the fantastic stories which have been circulating it seems 
that the balloons are really nothing but English barrage balloons 
which have broken adrift in the high wind. The same titling, it will 
be remembered, has happened in Sweden, and some have crossed the 
Pyrenees into Spain. 

The F.B.B.'s next operational launching was carried out near 
Liverpool, the target of several heavy bombing raids in the spring. 
It was on a fairly small scale, less than 150 units being sent up, 
and though these few wires failed to ensnare any aircraft the 
device depended for material success on the release of many hun- 
dreds at a time the modifications to the balloons and wire-release 
gear cut down the failures substantially. Nevertheless, it proved an 
eventful night for people living in the area between Warrington and 


Tarporley, F.B.B. bombs breaking eighteen windows in one house, 
and a herd of cattle became quite remarkably entangled in some of 
the descending wire. A telephone exchange was put out of action, 
and two of the main electric grid cables on farmland near Sandiway 
were brought down by a violent short circuit. 

These were, however, minor disadvantages compared with the 
incidents in the earlier trials, and the final design of the Free Bal- 
loon Barrage reached an efficiency of 80 per cent. Fate decreed, how- 
ever, that this spectacular method of defence was never to be given 
a full-scale test in its final, improved form. The mass air raids on 
England ceased as suddenly as they had begun, and for nearly three 
years the Luftwaffe turned their main attentions to other battle 
fronts. Stressing this fact in his summing up of the brilliant research 
work carried out on the F.B.B., the Proximity Fuse, and other anti- 
aircraft devices, the Prime Minister expressed the opinion that "the 
value of these efforts, which could only be proved by major trial," 
should not be underrated. 1 

The Free Balloon Barrage might well have launched a shattering 
attack on the morale of the German bomber pilots, and, viewing this 
strange, ingenious apparatus against the background of later events, 
Mr Churchill, for one, considered it a formidable invention. "It was 
surprising and fortunate," he declared, "that the Germans did not 
develop this counter to our mass bombing raids in the last three years 
years of the war." 1 

1 Sir Winston Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. II, pp. 346-350. 



Bt the spring of 1941 the fledgelings were spreading their wings. 
In rapid succession they acquired not only a new Director, but 
a new home in the West End of London and, strange to record, 
a seaside pier in Somerset. 

For a non-scientist the task of controlling and co-ordinating the 
activities of the Wheezers and Dodgers called for qualities unusual 
in a practical seaman. Captain Davies took the new appointment in 
his stride. Like Admiral Fraser, he realized that the usefulness of 
D.M.W.D. largely depended on their freedom to tackle a wide 
variety of projects in their own way. For one thing, as a temporary, 
war-time organization, they felt themselves under no obligation to 
defer to the views of established 'authorities' whenever they con- 
sidered these incoirect; they had no post-war repercussions to fear if 
friction arose with other departments. 

Their energy and novelty of outlook were a powerful stimulus to 
some of the Staff Divisions which tended to rely overmuch on past 
experience, but 35 they ventured into wider fields Goodeve's team 
felt the need of some one at the helm who knew the ways of the 
Admiralty from long experience. 

Often it was far easier to evolve a new weapon than it was to pilot 
it through a maze of officialdom, and with any new idea no progress 
could be made until it had been put up in a 'docket' a report of 
the project which was sent round in an Admiralty folder for the 
comments of all other departments which might be concerned, and 
which finally went to the Board of Admiralty for approval. The 
docket system was sensible enough. Almost every naval project called 
for some degree of co-ordination or co-operative action between 
many Admiralty departments, and the machinery which initiated 
and circulated these informative files had been built up to ensure 
that every one was kept in the picture over current suggestions and 
developments. A ship is a self-contained unit, and nothing can be 
done in one part without others being affected. 

This was particularly true in the case of a new weapon. After the 


initial research, design and development brought in their train prob- 
lems of production, inspection, storing, transport, and fitting. Then 
men had to be trained to maintain the weapon, and fight with it. 
Right from the start of that weapon's evolution, therefore, a host of 
different Admiralty bodies had to be considered and consulted. 

In some ways the docket system served its purpose admirably, but 
since the whole of the Admiralty was flooded with dockets on every 
conceivable subject some took an unconscionable time to complete 
their journey. Ignorance of Admiralty procedure could increase this 
delay by weeks. 

To steer a proposal rapidly and successfully round its predestined 
course one needed to be something of a psychologist, and here Jock 
Davies proved a tower of strength. He had an uncanny ability to size 
up in advance the likely attitudes of the established Admiralty 
departments to any proposition which D.M.W.D. wanted to make, 
and, while quite ready to explore unorthodox ways of overcoming 
opposition, he was generally able to suggest the constitutional solu- 
tion to the department's problems. His tact and sound common sense 
smoothed over D.M.W.D.'s difficulties, and he was the ideal foil for 
Goodeve, who had a somewhat impetuous approach to the restrictions 
of the Civil Service machine. 

Goodeve was always anxious to speed the course of events. Im- 
patient with meticulous precision in design and trial work, he chafed, 
too, at the more intangible human factors which could hold up an 
urgent project. He was reluctant to wait for a day, or even an hour, 
in order to see the right man or the right group of people about 
some plan which he wanted to push through, and by this over- 
anxiety to rush things to a conclusion he occasionally forfeited both 
time and sympathetic co-operation. The arrival of Davies freed him 
of much irksome administrative responsibility, and the two men 
the scientist and the sailor worked in complete harmony. Goodeve 
was still the guiding genius, stamping his strong personality on every 
man and every project in the department, but firmly and unobtru- 
sively Davies made his own very positive contribution. A regular 
observer of all major trials of weapons and devices, he soon became 
the able spokesman at Admiralty conferences on any scheme in which 
D.M.W.D. were involved. 

For an Admiralty department the atmosphere of D.M.W.D. 
could be described as distinctly informal, and the new Director must 
have been somewhat startled by the un-naval appearance of some 
of his charges. 

Many of them, urgently needed for their scientific qualifications, 
had been pitchforked into uniform at a moment's notice, their initial 
training in the customs and traditions of the Service confined to one 


afternoon's lecture from a petty officer. Having rattled off some 
irrelevant information about Lord Nelson still referred to by some 
members of the lower deck as though he was the current First Sea 
Lord their mentor would tell the surprised scientists how to sling a 
hammock, and what would happen to them if they failed to salute 
the Quarter-deck! This confusing indoctrination at an end, they 
were let loose in the Admiralty. To their relief they found no ham- 
mocks to sling and no Quarter-decks to salute, and if Lord Nelson 
seemed at times to survey them rather severely from his plinth in 
the Admiralty's main entrance the atmosphere of their earlier quar- 
ters in Archway Block North was reassuringly reminiscent of their 
normal, peace-time environment. 

D.M.W.D.'s rooms were like no others in the dignified precincts 
of Whitehall. Most Admiralty offices had a stark simplicity a few 
hard chairs, large desks smothered with papers which overflowed 
from the In and Out trays, and, on a small table in the corner, 
the inevitable paraphernalia of tea-making. That was all. No adorn- 
ment, no visible clue to the work in hand. In sharp contrast 
D.M.W.D.'s quarters resembled some monstrous Wellsian workshop. 
Parts of aircraft wings rested nonchalantly against the walls; there 
were piles of parachutes and balloons of various colours, empty pro- 
jectile cases, bundles of ignitors, and coils of wire. Every drawer 
seemed to be crammed with explosives, and several Free Balloon 
Barrage bomb-containers were in use as soap-tins or ash-trays. The 
main room was always alive with comings and goings. Distinguished 
professors in plain clothes would wander in to confer on some 
abstruse problem of ballistics or aerodynamics; officers would set off 
for distant trial grounds laden with bomb-cases or electrical gear. 
Some one, probably Lane, would be busy in one corner of the room 
sawing a new type of German fuse in half to see how it worked. 
Near by, and oblivious to the noise and the possibility of imminent 
explosion, others would be working at their drawing-boards. 

At lunch-time, blissfully unconscious of their dishevelled appear- 
ance, the officer-scientists would wander towards their favourite 
hostdries, trying to detach their minds from the problems of the 
morning and remember who it was that they had to salute in the 
street. Ranks in the other services were only slightly more confusing 
to some of the lesser trained of the party than the Royal Navy's own 
distinctive order of precedence. As a result they invariably guessed 
wrong, saluting American top sergeants and their own petty officers 
punctiliously while they completely ignored admirals and major- 
generals with startling results. The Naval Provost Marshal and his 
lynx-eyed staff, always on the look-out for unshorn locks and caps 
awry, rarely failed to bag at least one scientist in the early days ! 


D.M.WJD.'s erudite recruits were not the only scientists at war 
to run into sartorial difficulties. A world-famous physicist who was 
advising one of the other services rang up Goodeve one day. 

"I'm attending the trials of this airfield-protection device of yours 
this afternoon," he announced. " Can you give me a lift in your car?" 

"Certainly," said Goodeve. "I'm leaving the 'Senior' at two 
o'clock. Meet me there, and I'll drive you down." 

The chosen rendezvous, the United Service Club, was the favoured 
haunt of senior naval officers. King Haakon of Norway had his own 
special corner of the coffee-room, and most of the Board of 
Admiralty lunched at the dub. Nothing normally disturbed the 
cloistered calm of the "Senior," but as Goodeve hurried down the 
corridor after lunch that day to collect his cap and greatcoat he 
saw a vigorous scuffle in progress in the entrance hall. A visitor, who 
was putting up a spirited resistance, was being propelled towards the 
door by the Head Porter, and, to his dismay, Goodeve saw that the 
unwelcome intruder was his colleague, the Professor. 

Always a spectacularly untidy man, he had excelled himself that 
day. He was wearing a particularly filthy old raincoat and a pair of 
tattered trousers. His hair straggled in a tangled mass over his eyes, 
and his face was streaked like a coalheaver's. It was small wonder 
that his attempt to gain admittance had been energetically repulsed ! 

Diving into die fray, Goodeve separated the combatants, and with 
profuse apologies he led the angry scientist to the Admiralty car 
waiting outside. Throughout the whole of their journey to that 
afternoon's trials the Professor remained speechless with rage. It was, 
in fact, several months before they were on speaking terms again ! 

Just before Easter the Wheezers and Dodgers moved to new quar- 
ters in Lower Regent Street, where they took over a whole suite of 
offices above the Hungaria Restaurant. In next to no time the large, 
airy room where most of the staff worked was crammed with the 
impedimenta of their varied experiments, and the floor round Lane's 
desk was knee-deep in fuse wire, batteries, miscellaneous tools, and 
pieces of equipment from German aircraft. 

For a man who had spent much of his life in the peaceful, con- 
templative study of tree culture Lane had a surprising passion for 
things explosive. He loved dismantling infernal machines, and his 
pockets were always crammed with bullets, fuses, and detonators. 
Hurrying into the office, he would beckon every One to gather round, 
and with an air of a magician he would produce a cannon shell or a 
piece of one. 

"Now this is very interesting," he would say. "You won't know 
what this is. You think it's just an ordinary shell, don't you?" 

Playing up, his audience would agree. 


"Well, it's nothing of the kind. It's probably the first one of these 
things to fall in England. Can't tell you how I got hold of it, but I'm 
pretty certain this shell is actuated by the new Flugelspitz XIK self- 
determining mechanism. Pass me that hammer !" 

Some one would always pass Lane a hammer, and the rest would 
stand there, rooted to the ground and wishing they had the moral 
courage to tell him that they thought he ought to treat the new pro- 
jectile with proper respect. Warming to his demonstration, Lane 
would strike the nose of the shell several resounding blows and hold 
it intently to his ear. 

"Did anyone hear anything then?" he would ask. "I thought I 
heard a faint tick." 

At this juncture his audience would generally begin to melt away, 
inventing other urgent appointments, preferably outside the office! 
Oblivious by then to the loss of his audience, Lane would spend the 
rest of the morning happily hammering, sawing, and tormenting the 
shell until he had reduced it to a mass of small fragments. Although 
several minor explosions occurred in his house in St John's Wood, 
he never blew up any Admiralty property. And his researches, 
despite the scarifying manner in which they were conducted, yielded 
many valuable results. 

Menhinick, fascinated by Tolman's "Safe Bomb" demonstrations, 
always maintained pessimistically that D.M.W.D. had a high acci- 
dent potential, and it was not long before a delightfully spectacular 
incident enlivened Lower Regent Street. Richardson was one of the 
least reckless of the department's officers, but he had an uncontrol- 
lable habit of doodling on his blotter or fiddling with anything tliat 
came to hand whenever he was talking on the telephone. 

One morning in May he was waiting for the Admiralty switch- 
board to take his call when he picked up his ebony ruler, and in 
an absent-minded way administered several playful blows to a 
2-pounder shell which he was using as a paperweight. To his intense 
surprise the shell exploded, ejecting a flare and a parachute, and 
the whole department was filled with choking clouds of bluey-green 

Some officers fought their way to the emergency fire-escape. En- 
thralled crowds in Lower Regent Street watched others, silhouetted 
against a baleful glare from the stricken room, hang gasping for 
breath out of the windows over the Hungaria Restaurant while the 
green fog swirled around them. Noting the uniforms of the distressed 
victims, knowing bystanders concluded with satisfaction that the 
Royal Navy had invented a new secret weapon ! 

To some people mishaps never come singly. Shells vanished 
from the desk of Commander Richardson, but in their place arrived 


two Free Balloon Barrage detonators. Richardson soon forgot his 
unnerving experience, and a month later he was again speaking on 
the 'phone this time to Captain Long at the Ordnance Board 
when he prodded one of the detonators with his pen-nib. There was 
a deafening explosion, and as Richardson staggered into the outer 
room clutching a wounded hand the phlegmatic Swan picked up the 

"Would you mind calling back a little later, sir?" he said. "Com- 
mander Richardson has just shot himself, but I don't think it's any- 
thing more serious than usual." 

For all these lighter interludes D.M.W.D. was no playground. The 
department was hard at work on an astonishingly wide range of 
projects, and the need for a trial ground became increasingly press- 
ing. So far development had been carried out by any means avail- 
able, small teams of officers working at the universities, in civilian 
factories, or at the various experimental establishments run by the 
other Services. The wire devices took some to Exeter, many of the 
Free Balloon Barrage problems were examined at Cardington. Other 
officers under Richardson were developing powerful anti-U-boat 
flares at Newdigate, in Surrey; and research into underwater explo- 
sions went on in the grounds of a country house in Berkshire requisi- 
tioned by the Ministry of Supply. Much useful work throughout 
D.M.W.D.'s career was carried out in the Engineering Laboratories 
of King's College, where the laboratory mechanic, John Shoesmith, 
gave yeoman assistance with the development of the Pig Trough and 
freshwater stills. 

This need to bat on other people's wickets caused frequent difficul- 
ties, and when the department began work on one of its most important 
projects of all a weapon which was to revolutionize Allied tactics 
against the U-boats Goodeve cast around for a site which would 
allow them to carry out their own trials with complete freedom. To 
develop this weapon, the "Hedgehog" of which more anon he 
needed somewhere with a high rise and fall of tide over sand or mud; 
experimental projectiles had to be fired into deep water and then 
recovered, undamaged, when the sea receded. The resourceful 
Francis, now promoted to sub-lieutenant, was therefore dispatched 
on a tour of the West Country, and it was not long before he found 
the ideal spot seventy-five-year-old Birnbeck Pier, at Weston-super- 
Mare, where in peace-time holiday crowds embarked for steamer 
trips to Cardiff and Bristol, Clovelly and lonely Lundy Island. For 
more than a year now no steamers had used the Birnbeck landing 
stage, and few visitors tramped along the desolate planked roadway 
to the little island at the Pier's far end, where the amusement booths 
stood shuttered and deserted. 


Noting plenty of buildings on the end of the pier which could be 
easily adapted as workshops, Francis also saw that the place had 
advantages from a security angle. It lay well away from the main 
part of the town. The pier master, much intrigued, allowed him to 
set up his mortar and fire a few Hedgehog rounds into the sea, and 
not long afterwards the Admiralty descended on Weston-super- 
Mare. The pier became H.M.S. Birnbeck. For the rest of the war it 
was destined to play a memorable part in the Navy's scientific 

With trials facilities greatly increased, Captain Davies made a 
number of changes in the organization of the department, and a 
special section was formed to handle the supply of all the materials 
needed for D.M.W.D.'s many experiments. The Engineering Sec- 
tion, too, became a separate entity under Norway, who about this 
time unpatriotically contracted German measles. Bored with his 
enforced idleness in the sick bay, he occupied the time in writing 
a novel which, later on, Goodeve used to refer to as one of 
D.M.W.D.'s most successful 'by-products.' It was The Pied Piper. 

As the spring of 1941 merged into summer the weight of the 
enemy air attack on shipping shifted from the narrow waters far out 
into the Atlantic, where the huge Focke-Wulf Condors took heavy 
toll. Between February and June we lost nearly 70,000 tons of ship- 
ping from air attack alone; there were losses, too, nearer home, and 
during May the Blitz on Liverpool cost 91,000 tons in ships sunk or 
damaged in two days. 

D.M.W.D. examined the possibilities of camouflaging both the 
dock area at Liverpool and the prominent landmarks which gave the 
German pilots their position on the run in to the target. The depart- 
ment also asked to look into the feasibility of designing movable blast- 
screens to protect ships lying alongside during an air raid. Proposals 
for wider use of smoke, suggestions for covering the surface of the 
water in the docks with coal-dust, and the provision of elaborate nets 
over the reservoirs which lay between Manchester and the Trent 
Valley were all investigated, but happily the major attacks on the 
port died away: By midsummer, too, -the Prime Minister was able 
to announce a decisive decline in the losses from air attack in the 
North Atlantic. 

The U-boat situation, however, became increasingly grave, and in 
twelve weeks enemy torpedoes accounted for no less than 818,000 
tons of Allied shipping. D.M.W.D.'s main efforts were henceforward 
to be directed more and more against the enemy beneath the water, 
and if they needed any spur to their endeavours they had only to 
study the reports of the interrogations carried out in the Admiralty's 
Trade Division by Commander Norman Holbrook, V.C., R.N. 


Every master of a merchantman which had undergone attack by 
aircraft, submarine, or surface raider, or had become a victim of an 
enemy mine, was sent to Holbrook to tell his story. From these 
interrogations emerged a picture of enemy tactics which was invalu- 
able in the planning of counter-measures. And, day after day, Hol- 
brook and his small committee of experts from various departments 
in the Admiralty listened to stories of almost incredible heroism and 
self-sacrifice, all the more moving for the simple, matter-of-fact way 
they were told. One master of a little Boston steam trawler described 
how his ship had been mercilessly shelled by a U-boat. Their only 
lifeboat had been holed in the attack, but a wounded seaman thrust 
his leg into the cavity, and for twenty-two hours he kept it there while 
his shipmates pulled the boat forty miles to the Irish coast. 

Occasionally the drama of the survivors' stories was lightened by 
touches of unexpected humour. Holbrook once asked the master of a 
ship what weapons he had fired and who had manned the guns in a 
successful action against a Heinkel bomber. 

"We got off 600 rounds from our two Lewis guns and six bombs 
from the Holman Projector. The mate was at the Holman, and the 
boatswain and a fireman handled the machine-guns," he replied. 

"Half a minute," said Holbrook. "You said earlier on that you 
had a military gunner. What was he doing all this time?" 

"Oh ... he didn't take much part in the action," said the Master. 
"When we first sighted the bomber he flung his arms round my neck 
and burst into tears. I think he was a bit nervous, like." 

Commander Holbrook readily gained the confidence of the most 
diffident and reserved men. He had a complete understanding of the 
tasks facing the Merchant Navy, and his cheerful, sympathetic per- 
sonality put every one instantly at their ease. In the First War he had 
won the Victoria Cross for a supremely gallant submarine venture, 
taking his small boat beneath the elaborate underwater defences of the 
Dardanelles and torpedoing a Turkish battleship. Many of the Mer- 
chant Navy officers he interviewed over 3000 survivors came 
somewhat reluctantly to the Admiralty, thinking they were going to 
be cross-examined and criticized for their handling of their ships, but 
Holbrook won them all over. The stories he drew from them played 
a vital part in improving life-saving equipment, increasing the effici- 
ency of convoy protection by sea and air, and providing the right 

Although they had started their existence as an anti-aircraft 
organization, it was not long before the Wheezers and Dodgers be- 
came concerned with U-boat warfare. 

Not, perhaps, surprisingly, their intervention in yet another sphere 
was soon to involve them in conflict once again this time with 


various bodies which had long regarded submarine-warfare prob- 
lems as their own special responsibility. Goodeve was, however, be- 
coming resigned to this kind of opposition. It was at least more 
understandable than some of the minor frustrations which the 
department encountered 

Two prime examples of the latter occurred soon after the 
Wheezers and Dodgers moved to Lower Regent Street, and the first 
of these centred, strange to relate, on the complete absence of clocks 
in the new offices. As D.M.W.D. now had a staff of sixty Goodeve 
f dt that the department might reasonably be entitled to two clocks, 
and he asked Jamieson to indent for these from naval stores. Soon 
afterwards he was rung up by a Civil Servant, who said abruptly, 
"No docks are available. I'm afraid you will have to do without 

Goodeve thought no more about the matter until, one day when 
he was in the laboratories of University College, he came by acci- 
dent upon a whole room crammed with docks. There were nearly a 
a hundred of them lying unused, and they were identical in pattern 
and make to those in Whitehall. 

The University authorities said they had no objection to the 
Admiralty buying all they wanted, so Goodeve rang up the official 

"I've just found a hundred docks," he said. "Fve been told we 
can have two or more, if they're any use to you. What is the pro- 
cedure for purchasing any we want?" 

The official sounded annoyed. "There are no funds available for 
purchasing clocks except through this department," he said tersdy 
and hung up. 

A few days later Goodeve invited the official to have a drink with 
him. Meeting him in the offices over the Hungaria, he led him to 
the two docks he had, after all, acquired from the University College. 

"Do you know what those really are?" he asked. "I'll tell you. 
They may look like docks, but actually they're Experimental 
Chronometers, and the Admiralty has paid for them." 

After a few drinks the official went away in quite a genial frame 
of mind. He even agreed that an official Admiralty Clock-winder 
could henceforth 'maintain' the two Experimental Chronometers. 
So, for the rest of the war, the offidal dock-winder appeared once 
a week and wound up the two 'chronometers.' They were, the latter 
was heard to observe more than once, so like ordinary docks that a 
lot of people wouldn't have known the difference ! 

Another brush with officialdom had its origins in the days when 
air raids on London were at their height. So much working time was 
liable to be wasted that a system of graded warnings was introduced, 


and alarm bells sounded only when enemy aircraft came within a 
certain radius. This never worried the Wheezers and Dodgers, be- 
cause they had no alarm bell anyway, but a year after the raids on 
London had ceased altogether a swarm of workmen descended on 
the office in Lower Regent Street, and with great labour installed 
a huge electric bell. 

For several months nothing happened, and then, one day when 
Goodeve was holding an important conference it was one of the 
earliest discussions on problems connected with the invasion of 
Europe the bell, hitherto silent, began to ring furiously. All work 
stopped. The bell's deafening clangour made conversation impos- 
sible. After enduring this for ten minutes Goodeve went out into the 
corridor where the bell was hanging. Returning with the bell itself 
in His hand, he placed it on his desk, and for several weeks it rendered 
useful service as an ashtray. Three or four times a day the mechan- 
ism on the wall in the corridor whirred quietly at the moments of 
routine testing, but it disturbed no one, and Goodeve had forgotten 
all about it when an inspector suddenly arrived in the department. 

To his astonishment he saw the bell itself no longer in position, 
and, entering Goodeve's room, he was just about to report the theft 
when he noticed the missing object lying upturned on the conference 
table, filled with cigarette-ends. 

The inspector fairly bristled with indignation. "This is a serious 
matter," he declared importantly. " You'll hear more of this." 

And Goodeve certainly did. Almost immediately he was sum- 
moned to the main Admiralty building by Quite a senior Civil Ser- 
vant, and a heated interview took place. The official, becoming 
angrier and angrier, finally thumped the desk and said, "The befi 
goes back within twenty-four hours, or I will see that this very serious 
breach of regulations is reported to higher authority." 

Since there was nothing to be gained by fanning the flames of this 
trivial dispute Goodeve returned to Lower Regent Street, emptied 
the cigarette-ends out of the bell, and had it screwed back in position 
on the waU. 

Next day a Chief Inspector appeared. Looking at the bdl with 
evident satisfaction, he remarked to the room at large that he was 
glad D.M.W.D/S Deputy Director had seen sense at last. 

Officialdom was satisfied, but from that day until the end of the 
war the bdl never, in point of fact, uttered a sound louder than 
a pleasant purr. Before replacing it Goodeve had taken the precau- 
tion of lining the inside with Plasticine ! 



-ir TT TTHEN Doenitz unleashed his Wolf Packs the war at sea took 
%/%/ a serious turn for the Allies. The new type of yyo-ton 

y y Atlantic U-boat could travel faster on the surface than 
many of the convoy escorts, and during the long winter nights they 
wrought terrible execution, one convoy alone losing twenty ships 
out of thirty-four. 

Submerged, these modern U-boats set just as difficult a problem, 
for although the Royal Navy, thanks to the efforts of its permanent 
scientists before the war, were far ahead of other nations in their 
ability to detect a submarine under the surface, it was quite a differ- 
ent matter to ensure its destruction. In this one field science had not 
kept abreast of technical development, and the only weapon avail- 
able, the depth-charge, had not been substantially improved since 
the First World War. A large round canister, it contained 300 
pounds of explosive, and was dropped from the stern of the hunting 
ship, sinking slowly enough to give the ship herself time to escape 
the effects of the explosion. 

This method of attack had worked well enough two decades 
earlier, when submarines could only crawl along under water and 
their hulls were not sufficiently strong to allow them to dive to great 
depths. Now it was a different story altogether. They could travel at 
more than eight knots when submerged; they were easily manoeuvr- 
able; and their hulls could stand much greater pressure. If they were 
picked up by the Asdics of the convoy escorts they still had a good 
chance of escaping unscathed, for there was an appreciable period of 
c blind time' in which they could take evasive action. The escort 
vessel which got a 'contact* on her anti-submarine detecting gear 
had first to steam to the spot where she estimated the U-boat to be, 
and then release the slow-falling canister, which might take a further 
half-minute or more to reach its intended depth. 

When they examined the whole problem before the war two pos- 
sible methods of cutting down the 'blind time' suggested themselves 
to the naval scientists. First they could redesign the depth-charge so 


that it fell faster through the water but the faster it fell, the greater 
likelihood there was of damage to the hunting ship before it could 
steam out of range. 

The alternative was to invent a new type of weapon altogether, 
which could hurl explosive charges far ahead of the ship. When this 
idea was first conceived its sponsors were still thinking along the lines 
of using depth-charges as missiles, but it was soon found that the 
effort of throwing these huge projectiles any considerable distance 
would set up a terrific thrust on the deck of the ship. The normal 
charge was designed to explode at a certain depth whether it struck 
an obstacle or not, and therefore had to be large enough to cause 
damage over a wide area. It now occurred to the scientists that if 
they used a missile which exploded only when it hit the target they 
could afford to cut down its weight very substantially. If, also, they 
could devise a species of gun which hurled a whole pattern of these 
smaller charges in a circle they would enormously increase the 
chances of success. Charges which detonated only on contact had a 
further advantage. If the pattern of bombs missed the target alto- 
gether there would be no violent underwater explosions to put the 
hunting ship's Asdic gear temporarily out of action. 

This c ring attack 9 method was evolved in the Royal Nav/s Anti- 
Submarine Experimental Establishment before the war started, but 
little headway was made with the design of a satisfactory weapon, 
simply because the rigidity of the allocation of duties prevented 
this establishment from carrying out any experiments, except 
secretly. 1 

Goodeve first heard about the new 'ahead-throwing mortar' from 
Dr Buflard in the spring of 1940, when he was clearing up his work 
on the magnetic mine. Like many others, Bullard realized that the 
U-boat threat was only in its infancy. Soon the losses from enemy 
submarine attack would increase, and he was worried at the slow 
progress of the new weapon. Goodeve had no opportunity to examine 
the project there and then, for he was on the verge of joining 
Admiral Somerville's staff, and for a long time afterwards he was 
busy with anti-aircraft research. Some months later, however, a talk 
with Richardson about a new type of wire device suddenly suggested 
a solution to the problem of Trilling U-boats. 

Richardson had been to Portland Place, where a small staff of sol- 
diers and civilians under Major Jefferis was working on various 
secret projects for disrupting the lives of the Germans. Millis Jefferis, 
a short, dynamic man with sandy hair, was a sabotage expert who 
had recently commanded the ist Field Squadron of the Royal 

1 The A/S Experimental Establishment was evacuated to Fairlie, on the Clyde 
Estuary, after the fall of France. 


Engineers at Aldershot. Then the War Office had sent for him. There 
were many plans afoot for sabotage on the Continent, including a 
scheme for blowing up oilfields in Rumania; Jefferis, who had 
brought destruction to a fine art, was put to work in a hush-hush 
department handling all manner of intelligence and research prob- 

In matters of sabotage his interest ranged wide, and a plan of his 
for sowing fluvial mines in the Rhine attracted the attention of the 
First Lord of the Admiralty. Mr Churchill was much impressed, and 
when he became Prime Minister he took steps to discover whether 
Jefferis' drive and initiative were being used to full advantage. To 
General Ismay he minuted : 

Report to me on the position of Major Jefferis. By whom is he 
employed? Who is he under? I regard this officer as a singularly 
capable and forceful man who should be brought forward to a higher 
position. He ought certainly to be promoted Lieutenant-Colonel as 
it will give him more authority. 1 

It was not long before the Sapper major found himself raised in 
rank and given a department of his own. He took over some offices 
and workshops in the old headquarters of Radio Normandie, and 
from time to time he would wander into the Admiralty to exchange 
information and ideas with Goodeve and Richardson. One morning 
in the autumn of 1940 he arrived with some rough drawings of a 
new weapon. This was the spigot mortar an unusual device which 
completely reversed the normal process by which a missile was dis- 
charged into the air. The base of the bomb itself fitted round an 
ingenious electrically actuated peg the spigot and it was this 
which fired the projectile. The spigot was the brainchild of 
Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart Blacker, and Jefferis was using it to 
develop an anti-tank gun the "Blacker Bombard" in his work- 
shops in the Radio Normandie building. 

Blacker, a whimsical Irishman in his early fifties, had been invent- 
ing things ever since his schooldays at Bedford at the turn of the 
century. As a boy in the Lower Fifth Form he had been highly 
intrigued by reports of the successful use of mortars in the Sino- 
Japanese war, and, procuring some black powder, a stock of cigar- 
ette papeis, and a croquet ball to act as a projectile, he built his 
first mortar there and then. With it he carried out a spectacular 
bombardment of the headmaster's greenhouse at a range of 300 


This resounding success fostered an interest in mortar weapons 
throughout his military career. Not long before the war he had writ- 

1 Sir Winston Churcnill, The Second World War, Vol. II, p. 583- 


ten to the Admiralty suggesting a type of spigot weapon for attacking 
submarines, only to be informed that there was "no naval require- 
ment" for this idea. By then, with the help of the village clockmaker 
at Petworth, he had built the first trial model of the Bombard, and it 
was a variant of this weapon which Jeff eris suggested to Goodeve 
for use in the U-boat war. He thought it might be developed to fire 
single projectiles, but Goodeve already had another idea. "I've heard 
something about this from Richardson," he said. "Do you think we 
could use this spigot mortar of yours to fire a whole ring of bombs?" 
He outlined the kind of weapon that was needed, and Jeff eris went 
back to his drawing-board. A few days later he returned with a 
design which seemed distinctly promising. His bomb-thrower looked 
much lighter and simpler than the Fairlie Mortar, and it promised to 
be a lot more seaworthy. 

Goodeve now had to find an organization in the Admiralty willing 
to sponsor the new weapon. The Wheezers and Dodgers were still 
primarily an anti-aircraft body, with neither the authority nor the 
facilities for developing an underwater weapon singlehanded. Nor- 
mally this was the special province of D.T.M. the Directorate of 
Torpedoes and Mining but when D.T.M. were approached they 
said the new bomb-thrower was really a gun and, as such, was the 
responsibility of the Directorate of Naval Ordnance. 

D.N.O., however, were equally reluctant to act as the foster- 
parents. Inspecting the drawings, they said it was really an under- 
water weapon, but in the end they agreed to take a benevolent 
interest in it provided that the Wheezers and Dodgers made them- 
selves responsible for most of the development work. 

This was just what Goodeve wanted. It gave him the authority to 
go ahead on his own; at the same time the backing of D.N.O. would 
be invaluable in any dealings with the Ordnance Board the joint- 
Service body which sat in judgment on every new weapon devised 
for the Navy, the Army, or the Air Force. 

It was a sound principle that the designer should never do the 
testing of his own productions. An independent and unbiased 
examination was necessary, and the Ordnance Board thus filled an 
important r&le. By any standards, however, it was a cumbersome 
and unwieldy organization, ill-fitted to discharge its heavy respon- 
sibilities in time of war. To cope with the task of inspecting a vast 
range of guns, shells, and fuses a younger and more energetic staff 
was needed. Instead, the heavy programme was carried out largely 
by elderly, retired officers or civilians set in their ways and possessing 
little zest or novelty of outlook. Anything which emerged with their 
seal of approval was, admittedly, one hundred per cent, safe, but they 
seemed unable to strike a happy mean between cautious conserva- 


tism and enterprise. When a project came before them there were 
conferences by the dozen and actual trials by the hundred before 
the smallest piece of equipment was sanctioned. 

Many of the Ordnance Board staff seemed a little confused by the 
impact of war. On one of his early visits to the establishment Rich- 
ardson had tried to explain to one elderly Army officer the urgency 
of pushing forward a certain weapon for use against dive-bombers, 
which for weeks past had been harrying our coastal shipping and 
attacking the Channel ports. 

"I don't quite understand what you're driving at, Commander," 
said the expert. "What precisely is this dive-bombing you keep talk- 
ing about?" 

Not surprisingly, the Wheezers and Dodgers had some misgivings 
about the Ordnance Board ! 

Soon after the plans for the new anti-U-boat weapon were pre- 
sented to this House of Lords of the gunnery world Goodeve rang 
up a very senior officer on its staff to seek his support and secure some 
priority for certain trials. To his astonishment, the very mention of 
the spigot mortar produced a violent diatribe against the device and 
all its advocates. 

"This idea was put up by Major X in 1910, and it was turned 
down by the Ordnance Board then. The spigot mortar was put up 
by Colonel Blacker in 1930, and it was turned down again. It was 
put up by Major Jefferis in 1939, and the Ordnance Board turned it 
down for the third time. If God Almighty Himself sponsored the 
spigot mortar, I tell you it would still be turned down by the Ord- 
nance Board!" 

To Goodeve, listening to the outburst, it seemed fairly evident that 
the Wheezers and Dodgers could count on little support from this 
quarter. They would have to go ahead, trusting that the bomb- 
thrower would argue its own merits. 

From the start many different people and organizations took a 
hand in the development of the new weapon. Bombed out of his 
headquarters in Portland Place, Jefferis and his staff moved to a 
country house near Aylesbury, and Sub-Lieutenant Francis, still 
protesting that he wanted to go to sea, was sent there to work on the 
electrical mechanism of the weapon. C.I.G.M., 1 a sub-department 
of Naval Ordnance, tackled the design of the mounting, which was 
to be built by a large firm of boilermakers in Bristol, and Boosey and 
Hawkes, the famous musical instrument makers, said that the 
machines they normally used for turning out trumpets for dance 
bands could construct the projectile. 

So far the bomb-thrower had no name. Goodeve offered a bottle 
1 C.I.G.M. was the department of the Chief Inspector of Gun Mountings. 


of sherry for the best title, and, though several of his staff laboured 
enthusiastically to drag in a musical allusion, the prize went to 
Hassall, with his "Hedgehog." It had a splendid suggestion of 
prickly hostility, and in the weapon taking shape the rows of spigots 
which bristled from the mounting bore a striking resemblance to the 
quills on a hedgehog's defiant back. 

When work began on the Hedgehog three other ahead-throwing 
weapons were under consideration. One, rudely entitled the "Bell- 
mouthed Bastard," was designed to fire quite large projectiles from 
a huge mounting sunk in the deck. Another, similar to the Hedgehog, 
was powered by rockets. The third, an even more massive contrap- 
tion than the Bell-mouthed Bastard, had five projectors for hurling 
full-sized depth-charges, but development of this languished when 
some one discovered that any ship fitting it was liable to overtake 
its own projectiles ! 

The only serious rival was the Fairlie Mortar, which had been 
progressing slowly and somewhat uncertainly since the start of the 
war. Having cleverly devised the principle of throwing a ring of 
bombs ahead of a ship, its designers had become firmly bogged down 
in their efforts to produce a suitable projectile. To make the bombs 
stable in their flight through the air they had hit on the idea of fit- 
ting a heavy cast-iron nose, but this straightaway cut down the space 
available for the explosive. In addition they had placed the fuse in 
the tail. 

Now the fuse was the critical factor. It had to stand a sudden terri- 
fic shock at the moment of firing; it had to strike the water at high 
speed without setting off the explosive; and yet, when it hit any 
solid, underwater object even a glancing blow, it needed to react 

For the Hedgehog Goodeve planned to have the fuse in the nose, 
and 30 pounds of high explosive immediately behind it. In the 
Fairlie projectile not only was too much space taken up by the iron 
nose, which limited them to 20 pounds of explosive, but with the 
fuse placed in the tail their bomb was unlikely to explode at all 
unless it struck the target at a certain angle. 

The opening rounds of the controversy over the competing 
weapons were fought out on the drawing-board and at innumerable 
meetings. Maintaining that their own mortar, with its 20-pound 
charge, would be fully equal to its task, the sponsors of the Fairlie 
claimed that work on the Hedgehog was a waste of the Admiralty's 
time. To refute this Goodeve had to prove that his own Hedgehog 
bomb would be stable in its flight without the weighted nose which 
was handicapping his rivals. 

He proposed to give stability to his projectile by fitting a tubular 






NOVEMBER 12, 1943: 

Nevil Shute Norway is at the 

controls as the Panjandrum 

gathers speed. By his side 

is Williamson. 












The ingenious propeller fuse can 
be clearly seen. 



tail, and Francis was sent off to Birnbeck with several dummy bombs 
of different shapes and sizes. Setting up his spigot mortar on the end 
of the pier, he fired them into the sea. Most of them tended to slide 
on hitting the water, but eventually the observers discovered that if 
the projectile was designed with a flat nose the skidding action 
ceased altogether. 

Next they carried out tests with submarine plating. Against this 
they exploded various-sized charges, and the results convinced Good- 
eve that 20 pounds of explosive was certainly not enough to do the 
required damage to a submarine's hull. Until he knew the answer 
to one vital question, however, he was still not sure that even his own 
estimate of 30 pounds was sufficient. Somehow he had to discover 
the exact distance between the deck and the pressure hull of the new 
German U-boats; it was no good producing a bomb which would 
explode on the deck and fail to burst open the main casing of the 

The Wheezera and Dodgers took their problem to every conceiv- 
able intelligence source, but the only reports and drawings available 
were all out of date. Short of capturing a U-boat intact, there seemed 
no way of securing this one, all-important measurement, and Good- 
eve was wondering what to do next, when a recent issue of a popular 
Italian weekly magazine came into the hands of the Naval Intelli- 
gence Department. 

It contained an illustrated feature article on the Italian Navy, and 
one large picture showed a dockyard worker repairing a U-boat. The 
Italian censors had gone to considerable trouble to black out almost 
everything which might have given any hint of the U-boat's design 
and special equipment but they had not been quite careful enough. 
Examining the picture, Goodeve noticed that one of the workmen 
was obviously standing on the pressure hull itself as he hammered at 
something on the deck below his waist. 

Taking into consideration the probable length of the man's legs, 
he could work out quite simply the distance he had been seeking. 
His calculation showed that either the Italian workman was a 
midget or the estimate put forward by the sponsors of the Fairlie 
to justify their smaller explosive charge was wrong by over a 

It was now obvious, too, that secrecy was vital on the British side. 
If the enemy got wind of the new weapon, and raised the height of 
the duck-boarding on top of their U-boats' hulls, the mortar bombs 
would explode harmlessly. Realizing this, the Admiralty siiipbuilding 
experts added fresh fuel to the argument. To insure against any con- 
structional changes by the enemy they chimed that a larger mortar 
bomb was an absolute necessity. In the Fairlie camp this ultimatum 


caused something like consternation, for their projectile was already 
as heavy as they dared to make it, it had substantially less explosive 
than the Hedgehog's bomb, and, to make matters worse, this was in 
the tail instead of the nose. 

While the Fairlie team were still trying to find a way out of this 
difficulty Goodeve tackled the next stage in the Hedgehog's evolu- 
tion. He had to calculate the exact bomb pattern which, in size 
and shape, would give a hunted U-boat the smallest chance of 

In the big room in Lower Regent Street Dr Guggenheim rigged 
up an apparatus resembling a roulette wheel, and for hour after hour 
and day after day he and an assistant spun the wheel, throwing tiny 
missiles at a scale model of a submarine. From these experiments 
they worked out the correct elevation for the spigots, and were able 
to estimate the significance of any accidental deviations from the 
pattern of bombs eventually chosen. 

When the answer emerged Guggenheim's ideal pattern had to be 
reproduced on the range with actual projectiles, and experiments 
switched to Whitchurch, where Jefferis and his staff were now 

A Secret Service research station, Whitchurch was the ideal place 
for developing the new weapon. There Jefferis had his own facilities 
for filling projectiles, detonators, and fuses; a special electronic 
apparatus was available for measuring velocity; and there were large 
water-tanks where Hedgehog rounds could be tested against sub- 
marine hulls. 

All manner of remarkable projects bombs which jumped about 
on the ground, bombs which leapt in and out of the sea, and rockets 
which fired bridges over rivers were given their first secret trials 
there. Professor Lindemann, a frequent visitor, was once present 
when Jefferis decided to test the thrust of one of his new projectiles 
by firing it down a stretch of railway track specially laid in the park. 
The missile in question was a homing bomb, fitted with air fins and 
propelled by a monster rocket. 

The bomb was first anchored to a huge steel plate, and then 
strapped to the floor of the truck by powerful metal clamps. In spite 
of these precautions the terrific stress set up when the rocket began 
its journey the thrust was over a thousand tons wrenched the 
vast missile free from its moorings. Taking off from the rails, the 
runaway bomb forced the startled spectators to take swift avoiding 
action. On another memorable occasion a workshop filled with 
mortar rounds and carboys containing some lethal liquid caught 
fire, and the whole corner of the building blew out. Probably the 
least concerned observer present when things went wrong was the 


impresario of this unusual establishment; Jefferis, whose habit of 
walking about with his pockets crammed with detonators, small 
batteries, and pieces of wire greatly impressed the Wheezers and 
Dodgers, never allowed minor mishaps to worry him ! 

The new Hedgehog problem he tackled with characteristic energy, 
but for some time little headway was made. No matter how many 
rounds were fired from the spigots the bombs refused to land in the 
prescribed formation. 

The Ordnance Board then decided to take a hand. Under their 
supervision a further hundred rounds were prepared with different 
sizes of cordite charge. For most of one day these were fired off and 
the results were carefully analysed. But the distribution of the bombs 
still remained obstinately inaccurate. When they adjourned to 
Jefferis' room for tea that day the Hedgehog party held an anxious 

"There are still two ideas we haven't tried," said Goodeve. "We 
need fifty more rounds with two different types of sealing gland." 1 

A commander from the Ordnance Board immediately objected. 
"That's all very well," he remarked, "but it'll take us another six 
weeks, you know. We can't possibly prepare you fifty more rounds in 
a shorter time than that." 

It was Jeff ens' turn to look astonished, and he pressed the bell on 
his desk. In came his senior N.C.O,, Sergeant Tilsley, who had done 
much skilled work on the Hedgehog projectile. Jefferis made a 
couple of quick sketches on the back of an envelope and passed it to 
him. " I want you to make up another fifty rounds with these changes 
incorporated and I want them by six o'clock, an hour from now," 
he said. 

At 6 P.M. they walked back to the range. The new rounds were 
ready for them, and one batch of twenty-five gave the exact pattern 
they were seeking. When they hit the ground the space between the 
charges was a little smaller than the diameter of a U-boat; the dis- 
tance across the circle was shorter than a U-boat's length. Any 
enemy submarine trapped in this ring of Hedgehog bombs could not 
escape serious damage. At long last the dispersion problem was 

By now the mounting of the Hedgehog was under construction. 
In the early stages this had given a lot of trouble, for although the 
design put forward by C.I.G.M. had its ingenious features they had 
estimated a recoil far greater than Goodeve or Jefferis anticipated. 
Assuming that their figures were accurate, Jefferis spent most of one 
train journey between Bath and London sketching furiously on empty 

lf The sealing gland prevented the explosive gases from escaping prematurely 
round the spigot from which the bombs were fired. 


cigarette packets. There and then he found a way of altering the 
mounting so that most of the thrust was not taken on the deck, but 
carried down into the bottom of the ship. Even so, the safety margin 
proved to be still insufficient. Poring over the designer's calculations, 
and trying to reconcile them with his own, Jeff eris eventually made 
a surprising discovery. All G.I.G.M.'s figures were based on a cor- 
dite reference table published in 1899 &&&, working with this out- 
of-date manual, they had allowed for four times the thrust exerted 
by modern cordite. It was small wonder that the problems of the 
mounting had seemed so intractable. 

The vital feature in the whole development of the weapon, how- 
ever, was the fuse. Goodeve found that fuse design was outside the 
province of the Director of Naval Ordnance; the task had to be 
passed through the Ordnance Board to the Chief Superintendent of 
Armament Design, who specialized in such mattere. Instead of for- 
warding it to his latter organization, however, a senior officer in 
the Ordnance Board to whom the request for the new fuse was sent 
decided to use his own initiative, and, sitting down at the drawing- 
board, he himself designed a fuse of almost unbelievable complexity. 
It had no fewer than 127 different parts, and, like the fuse in the 
tail of the Fairlie bomb, it had a 'dead 5 angle; in certain circum- 
stances it could strike the target and fail to function at all. 

Goodeve, who had already had a somewhat heated altercation with 
C.I.G.M.'s staff over the Hedgehog mounting, blew up at this further 
needless delay. Taking over responsibility for the development of the 
fuse himself, he sent an SOS to half a dozen different technical 
bodies for "ideas by Tuesday next." It went to recognized Admiralty 
sections specializing in ordnance problems; to the Navy's mine- 
design experts; to the underwater-weapon branch at Fairlie; and 
even to the rocket-research station at Aberporth, the Royal Aircraft 
Establishment at Farnborough, and the chemical-warfare scientists 
at Porton. On the following Tuesday the suggestions which had 
come in were carefully examined, and three promising designs were 
placed on the short list. One of them, put forward by a Captain 
Hawes, greatly attracted Goodeve. This fuse armed itself by 
hydrostatic pressure through holes in the nose, the rush of water 
as the projectile dived into the sea setting the mechanism in opera- 

Another worked by metal feelers protruding from the bomb like 
the antennae of an insect. And the third fuse on the short list, de- 
signed by Dr Lindley, a scientist working at the rocket range in 
Wales, had a mechanism set in motion by a propeller which began 
to turn as the projectile hit the water. 

Among those present at this meeting, held at the headquarters of 


the Chief Superintendent of Armament Design, was a retired Com- 
mander named Lucas, who had only joined the staff of C.S.A.D. oa 
the previous day. A resourceful and energetic man, he had few illu- 
sions about the tempo at which the Ordnance Board normally car- 
ried out their researches, and, recognizing the urgency of getting the 
Hedgehog into service, he volunteered to make the prototypes of the 
fuses himself. Borrowing a lathe, he turned the corner of his garage 
into a workshop, and although he had no proper drawings to guide 
him he produced beautifully finished working models of the three 
chosen fuses in a matter of days. This cut out the need to secure a 
priority in the Ordnance Board's drawing-office, and saved months 
of delay. 

The fuses were then taken to the Surrey Docks, where steel plates 
resembling the saddle tanks of a U-boat, and a wooden lattice-work 
contraption to simulate the submarine's deck, were rigged up. On to 
this target dummy Hedgehog bombs fitted with the different fuses 
were dropped from a gallows. Having passed this test, they were 
taken to Birnbeck, and exhaustive firing trials were carried out from 
the end of the pier. 

At first none of the fuses would arm on striking the sea, Lindley's 
propeller mechanism repeatedly jamming, but this fault soon cleared. 
To Goodeve's regret the hydrostatic fuse, which had looked the 
scientist's dream at first inspection, never came up to his high hopes. 
It persistently fired prematurely just below the surface. On the other 
hand, once it had come through its initial teething troubles, Lind- 
ley's propeller was apparently proof against every stress and strain 
imposed upon it. On entering the water it revolved slowly and surely 
until the right depth was reached, and then, just as surdy, was ready 
for action. Before the Birnbeck trials were over the Lindley-Lucas 
fuse had established itself as the logical choice, and thus, in a sur- 
prisingly short time, all the main problems in the design of the 
weapon had now been conquered. 

The work on the fuse development was a good example of scien- 
tific research in a hurry, for the requirement was first explained to a 
widely varied group of technical specialists, which made for healthy 
competition; all the chosen fuses reached the prototype stage where 
they could be compared; and finally there was concentration on the 

With the explosive side, in the charge of Lieutenant-Commander 
R. F. Strickland-Constable, R.N.V.R., producing no troubles, the 
stage was now set for 'selling' the Hedgehog to higher authority. So 
far the mainspring of the Hedgehog's development had been Good- 
eve's drive and persistence. Having paved the way for Jefferis to 
introduce the spigot mortar, he had compared every stage of its con- 


struction, finding the right people to carry out the many different 
technical tasks, and visiting the factories to spur on their efforts. 
Closely following every phase in the Hedgehog's evolution, he had 
always been in a position to supply the authoritative answer to any 
question which cropped up, and his own complete confidence in the 
capabilities of the new weapon had won for it increasing support in 
the Admiralty. 

The speed with which a new weapon could be put into service, 
depended, however, on the priority allocated to its full-scale produc- 
tion, aiid here Goodeve knew he would have to secure influential 
backing. No matter how much he and his department believed in the 
new U-boat weapon, they had no say in the matter of priorities; 
these were decided on a much higher joint-Service level. 

He and Jock Davies were still considering ways and means of 
boosting the Hedgehog's claims when they learnt that the Prime 
Minister was to be present at the trials of a new type of anti-tank 
bomb which Jeff eris was staging in a chalk quarry not far from 
Chequers. If they could capture Mr Churchill's interest in their own 
new weapon the battle was as good as won, and as Chequers was 
quite dose to Whitchurch this seemed the ideal opportunity. The 
trial was taking place at ten o'clock one Sunday morning, and Lord 
Gherwell readily agreed to suggest to the Prime Minister that he 
should drive over to Whitchurch after watching the anti-tank demon- 
stration. The Hedgehog could then be put through its paces before 
lunch. When the day came, however, Davies and Goodeve, deciding 
to leave nothing to chance, set off for the scene of the first trial. The 
area near the chalk pit swarmed with military police checking the 
identity of every visitor, but although neither of the interlopers from 
D.M.W.D. had passes with them Davies waved some entirely irrele- 
vant documents out of the car window and they were allowed 
through the cordon. 

On a grassy slope in front of the targets they found a distinguished 
gathering of Service leaders and civilians, and Jefferis put on a 
spectacular show for them with his anti-tank bomb a glass con- 
tainer filled with nitroglycerine, which exploded with an impressive 
flash and a crack. The young officer chosen to demonstrate it had 
rehearsed an act requiring split-second timing. Standing in front of 
the tank, he saluted, and then, turning smartly about, he hurled the 
bomb at the target and saluted again as he threw himself fiat on his 
face before the explosion. Mr Churchill was delighted, and when 
the demonstration was over he led the way down the slope to 
inspect the damage. He then decided on a little target practice 

Taking a tommy-gun, he fired a long burst at the tyres of a dere- 


lict Army lorry. The spectators began to edge back out of harm's 
way, and Mr Churchill next turned his attention to the lorry's 
Triplex screen, on which he cut his initials with bullets. More ammu- 
nition was sent for, and the crowd retreated even faster when the 
gun was passed to Mary Churchill, who blazed away enthusiastically 
at the battered lorry. 

After a while the Prime Minister looked at his watch. "Time for 
lunch," he remarked, and began to walk back up the slope, the 
onlookers forming a line along which he passed. Taking up a strate- 
gic position at the far end of the line, Goodeve looked round for 
Davies to support him, but he was nowhere to be seen, so when Lord 
Cherwell introduced the R.N.V.R. officer to the Prime Minister 
Goodeve hurriedly brought up the subject of the Hedgehog on his 

Mr Churchill listened intently, and then, looking again at his 
watch, he said, "I'm sorry, but I haven't time to come and see this 
weapon now. We are late already." 

He turned away, and .was about to get into his car when his 
daughter, who had just walked up to the group, firmly grasped his 

"We must see Captain Davies's bomb-thrower, Daddy," she 
pleaded; "of course there's time." Jock Davies, with his winning 
manner, had not been idle ! 

Smiling ruefully, Mr Churchill gave in, and the procession of cars 
shot away to Whitchurch. Watching the Hedgehog give a highly 
impressive account of itself, the Prime Minister soon forgot all about 
his lunch. 

The mortar was set to fire twenty-four rounds, two at a time in 
quick succession, until all the projectiles were in the air at once. 
Climbing the blue sky, they formed a strangely graceful pattern, and 
as they reached their zenith they turned lazily over, like well-drilled 
marionettes, before starting their swift dive to earth. Then came the 
bangs of the discharges as they landed round the target the shape 
of a submarine outlined on the ground with white tapes. 

The Prime Minister was enthralled. He asked for a second salvo 
to be fired . . . then a third. Here at last, it seemed, was the instru- 
ment which could turn the tide of the U-boat war, and Goodeve did 
not have long to wait for repercussions of this successful demonstra- 

The following morning the First Sea Lord sent for him. 

"This anti-submarine gun of yours . . . how soon can you arrange 
a trial for me?" asked Admiral Pound. And straightway he promised 
all possible assistance in getting the Hedgehog into operational 


This new and influential support came at a timely moment. 
Although there had been no serious setbacks in producing the proto- 
type, Goodeve knew that in certain quarters there was keen resent- 
ment at the intervention of his little department in a sphere outside 
its normal field of operations. 

This opposition was expressed in constant sniping at the Hedge- 
hog for shortcomings which had no foundation in fact. Again and 
again D.M.W.D.'s development officers were obliged to stage extra 
trials or waste time on elaborate calculations on paper in order to 
refute criticism for which there was no real justification. The reason 
for this became clearer when a man in a responsible position in 
another department arrived one morning at the office in Lower 
Regent Street and asked to see Goodeve. Point-blank a request was 
made that D.M.W.D. should abandon work on the new weapon 
altogether. Goodeve's visitor said bluntly that he wanted a clear 
field for the development of one of the competing anti-submarine 
weapons. The future of his own establishment depended on getting 
their own A/S weapon into service, whereas Goodeve had no need 
to enhance his own reputation. Clearly, added his caller, the only 
honourable course for D.M.W.D. was to cease all work on the 
Hedgehog forthwith. 

Goodeve was flabbergasted. This astonishing request completely 
ignored the needs of the Navy, and he resented the imputation that 
he was striving to produce the new spigot mortar solely for his own 
glorification. He knew that his visitor had struggled for a long time 
to get into the field of anti-submarine weapons and had had little 
opportunity. The man had been working under great stress for some 
time, but nevertheless this emotional appeal for work on the Hedge- 
hog to be abandoned showed no sense of proportion or responsi- 

Happily the Hedgehog had now progressed far enough for its 
merits to be known to a wide circle of naval experts. No amount of 
pressure from any vested interest could stop production, and after 
the Whitchurch demonstration Goodeve was in a much stronger 
position to deal with departmental rivalry. By May 1941 the Hedge- 
hog was ready for its sea trials. 

It had a formidable performance. The spigots could hurl their 
load of explosive fully 200 yards ahead of the ship, and when the 
bombs hit the water they formed a circular pattern 130 feet in dia- 
meter. With their streamlined casing, and their long-vaned tails to 
keep them falling on a true path, the bombs sank three times as fast 
as ordinary depth-charges, and a simple manual control enabled the 
whole mounting of the Hedgehog to be tilted by hand to offset any 
roll of the ship at the moment of firing. 


While the finishing touches were being put to the first of these 
multiple-spigot mortars, fitted in H.M.S. Westcott, the initial batch 
of live bombs were filled and sent off by rail to Liverpool. To 
the dismay of Francis and other members of the Wheezers and 
Dodgers awaiting their arrival, the bombs then vanished into thin 

It was found that they had got as far as Crewe, but not until a few 
hours before Westcott was due to sail came a message that they had 
been tracked down to a remote siding in North Wales. 

Francis was dispatched in a naval lorry to pick them up at Ches- 
ter. When he set off on the return journey there was no time for 
d&ours. Turning a blind eye to the ban on explosives, Francis rushed 
his precious load through the Mersey Tunnel, reflecting a little 
apprehensively that a sub-lieutenant's pay would hardly meet the 
fine if he was caught. 

Westcott slipped from her moorings on a brilliant early summer 
morn, with the calmest of seas. The firing trials were to be carried 
out against a submerged wreck in Liverpool Bay, and, after a few 
single rounds had been fired to check the functioning of the electrical 
gear, the destroyer her Asdics trained on the sunken vessel headed 
in for a full-scale attack. 

On the bridge hardly a word was spoken. To the waiting scientists 
this was the culmination of months of anxious preparation of con- 
stant consultations at the drawing-board; of interminable arguments 
with detractors of every feature of the Hedgehog, from the spigots, 
which were its nerve centre, to the bombs, with their ingenious fuse; 
and of countless trials which had gradually buoyed up the spirits of 
the Wheezers and Dodgers to optimistic certainty of success. Now 
their claims were about to be put to the test. 

The command to fire was given, and they saw the bombs climb 
the sky in front of them. They could follow each individual projec- 
tile quite plainly, and they watched them do their slow, deliberate 
somersaults before they began to fall faster, and faster 

As they struck the surface in a perfectly circular formation Good- 
eve found himself counting the seconds out loud. It seemed an eter- 
nity before anything happened, and then came the heavy rumble 
of the exploding charges. Above the wreck the sea shuddered vio- 
lently, and broke into a mist of droplets which rose and hung in the 

A cheer broke from the watching sailors. On the bridge there was 
general rejoicing. In the midst of this Francis came up to Goodeve, 
saluted smartly, and said, "May I now be transferred to sea duty, 
sir?" "If that's what you want," said Goodeve, "you've more than 
earned it." 


In relative silence the destroyer, her engines stopped, coasted into 
the centre of the huge ring of broken water, and then they noticed 
that the whole surface around the Westcott was covered with the 
white bellies of stunned or dead fish, which the crew began scooping 
aboard with every utensil they could lay hands on. It was the first 
time in the history of the Royal Navy that a submarine attack had 
been carried out ahead of a ship. And the Hedgehog had functioned 

Following the success of the Westcott trials the Admiralty went 
straight ahead with the Hedgehog, and in less than nine months from 
the day when Jeff eris first travelled to Bath with his original draw- 
ings the weapon was in production. 

In the interim period secrecy was more than ever necessary. If the 
enemy learnt that a new weapon firing contact charges was even 
contemplated it was thought they might well contrive some counter- 
measures in the construction of their U-boats. Several months after 
the trials in Liverpool Bay, however, came reassuring news. 

An aircraft of Coastal Command, patrolling south of Iceland, 
surprised U 570 in the act of surfacing. The U-boat's captain was 
on his first patrol in command. Losing his nerve, he scrambled on to 
the conning tower and waved his white shirt in surrender. U 570 
was captured intact, and when she was brought into port examina- 
tion showed that no structural changes had been made. 

As it turned out, secrecy was a double-edged weapon. Many sea- 
going officers in escort vessels had never heard of the Hedgehog 
when it was installed, and had no real understanding of what it could 
accomplish. No trained crews were provided to maintain it, and 
when, perhaps after a long interval, the bomb-thrower was tried out 
something often went wrong, and the unfortunate Hedgehog was 
there and then condemned as useless. 

Paradoxically enough, even when the weapon itself operated 
satisfactorily it often failed to win the confidence of its users. The 
average seaman is innately conservative. Used to weapons which 
fired with a resounding bang, he was not readily impressed with the 
performance of a contact bomb, which exploded only on striking an 
unseen target. The Hedgehog thus started with an initial handicap, 
and, to make matters worse, it was designed on principles unfamiliar 
to the sailor long accustomed to orthodox guns. Rumours began to 
circulate that the spigot mortar was unsafe. In point of fact it had 
been made as safe as it was humanly possible to make any weapon, 

1 This extraordinary incident is described in Wolfgang Frank's story of the 
U-boat war published in Great Britain under the title of The Sea Wolves 
(Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1955). U 570 was later recomznissioned for service in 
the Royal Navy as H.M. Submarine Graph. 


and a remarkable illustration of the shock-proof qualities of both its 
fuse and explosive was given in New York Harbour. A whole salvo 
of Hedgehog projectiles was fired accidentally from the deck of an 
escort vessel moored at a jetty. They all landed on the concrete sur- 
face of the quay, and not a single bomb exploded. 1 

Despite its merits, however the results achieved with the new 
weapon in its first year at sea were distinctly disappointing. At the 
end of this period only one kill and three 'probables' had come in. 
The trials, using dummy projectiles against some of our own sub- 
marines, had indicated that 50 per cent, of the attacks should have 
been successful; in fact, only about 5 per cent, were proving effective, 
and this was little better than they had experienced with the depth- 

Proper training alone could dispel suspicion and mistrust, and this 
underlying reason for the Hedgehog's failure had just been realized 
in the Admiralty when Francis returned dejectedly to Lower Regent 
Street, having been put ashore on account of night blindness. For 
nine months after his transfer to patrol duties in the North Sea he 
had managed to hide this unusual physical defect, but by an ironic 
turn of fate he had been caught out in the end. Volunteering for the 
midget submarine operations against the Tirpitz, he spent several 
months of intensive training, and then his commanding officer 
decided to put all the crews through a night-vision test devised for 
air crews some years before by Air-Commodore Livingstone. Good- 
eve had been responsible for the introduction of this test to the Navy, 
but he did not disclose this to the disconsolate Francis ! 

No sooner was he back in D.M.W.D. than Francis was dispatched 
on a fact-finding tour of the escort bases, and soon afterwards he was 
posted to Londonderry as "Hedgehog Training Officer." Using the 
wreck- of the Empress of Britain as a convenient target, he put the 
escort vessels through a thorough course in the use of the spigot 
mortar. Almost immediately the kills began to come in, and before 
the end of the war the Hedgehogs accounted for some fifty enemy 

Once they understood its potentialities the men of the escort 
vessels became fervent supporters of the new weapon, and one 
day a macabre tribute to its efficiency arrived at the Admiralty 
addressed to D.M.W.D. a parcel containing unchallengeable 
and rather gruesome evidence of a successful attack on a hunted 

To-day the Royal Navy has an even more ambitious ahead- 

1 Cited by J. M. Kirkby, M.A., Principal Scientific Officer, Admiralty Mining 
Establishment, in an address to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Febru- 
ary 6, 1948. 


throwing weapon in general use the Squid, a huge monster, hurling 
500-pound projectiles but the Hedgehog, which still plays its part 
in the Service, paved the way for its formidable offspring. It also 
spurred the Wheezers and Dodgers to further successful incursions 
into anti-submarine warfare. 


THE acquisition of the pier at Weston-super-Mare, referred to 
in an earlier chapter, enabled D.M.W.D. to expand their 
operations considerably. Not only was Birnbeck, with its high 
rise and fall of tide, ideal for testing underwater projectiles, but on 
either side of the bay stretched miles of lonely headland, and beaches 
secure from inquisitive eyes. 

Soon many unusual experiments were being conducted on and 
around Brean Down, a great grassy promontory to the south of the 
town. Others were staged in Middle Hope Cove, about four miles 
north of the pier, where two high-speed catapult tracks were laid 
down for testing missiles unlike any seen in the history of modern 

Research at Birnbeck ranged out, in fact, to embrace every aspect 
of war. Secret weapons were fired along the beaches or into the sea, 
and a host of problems connected with amphibious assault from 
the crossing of mined beaches to the scaling of cliffs were examined 
there. D.M.W.D. were gaining a wide reputation for versatility, and 
before long they were asked to explore such un-naval projects as 
the clearing of jungles in Burma, the distilling of water for men and 
machines in the Desert, and means of adapting the PA.G. to stop 
enemy tanks. 

The pier which now became their second home was one of the 
few to survive the invasion scare intact. In the summer of 1940 an 
admiral had stumped into the little office next to the turnstiles, and 
said to John Wide, who was in charge, "I'm afraid we shall have to 
cut a large section out of your pier." 

"You can't do that, sir," said Wide; "it's a continuous-girder pier; 
if you take one piece out the whole thing will fall down." 

The Admiral looked at him suspiciously, and sent for technical 
experts, who confirmed the fact. So the dismantles moved on, and 
the pier remained open for business. Few people visited it, however. 
War heightened the air of desolation which descends on all British 
seaside resorts in winter-time, and when Wide, who had spent much 


of his life in the Merchant Navy, left to join the Royal Naval Reserve 
the pier stood forlorn and deserted until the sudden arrival of Sub- 
lieutenant Francis with his spigot mortar. 

Birnbeck was more secluded than most seaside piers, for a neck of 
land hid it from the main part of the town, and one look convinced 
Francis that it was just what the Wheezers and Dodgers wanted. He 
cajoled the owners into leasing a small space just big enough for 
two men to stand on and operate the mortar, and when the first 
firing trials took place some RA.F. ratings billeted in the Refresh- 
ment Hall helped to keep unwelcome visitors away. 

Then more officers arrived from D.M.W.D. with Hedgehog fuses, 
and 'mudlarking' an exhausting and chilly pastime into which 
every visitor to Birnbeck was initiated sooner or later began in 
earnest. At high tide dummy projectiles fitted with live fuses were 
fired into some forty feet of water, and, six hours later, when the 
tide receded a team combed the odorous mud. The bombs were re- 
trieved, and the fuses were then examined to discover whether they 
had functioned prematurely, either on leaving the mortar or on 
hitting the sea. 

Officially the pier still preserved its civilian status, but in time 
word reached the Admiralty that a young sub-lieutenant with no 
proper authority to carry out deals in real estate was requisitioning 
more and more of it. An outraged member of the Admiralty depart- 
ment which looked after lands and buildings then called on Captain 
Davies, and said that if the Wheezers and Dodgers wanted a pier 
or even a small part of one they must apply through the Right 
Channels. So the position was regularized, and D.M.W.D. got the 
whole pier, inheriting at the same time an unusual asset for a scien- 
tific research station a fully licensed bar ! 

Within a year Birnbeck became one of His Majesty's naval shore 
establishments. Having heard that he had gained an R.N.R. com- 
mission and realizing that his local knowledge would be invaluable, 
Gpodeve successfully applied for John Wide to be posted there as 
First Lieutenant. 

This West Country landmark soon became a recognizable offshoot 
of D.M.W.D.'s London headquarters. People arrived with mysteri- 
ous packages containing jelly bombs or other strange contrivances 
which they wanted to try out, and far into the night loud explosions 
or blinding flashes of light came from the island on which the pier's 
far end was anchored. 

At Paddington the stream of bombs, mines, and other lethal- 
looking objects bound for Westonnsuper-Mare aroused no more than 
passing interest among the railway staff after a while, but the 
Wheezers and Dodgers' fellow-passengers never seemed quite at 


case when they found themselves sharing a compartment with a large 
bomb. To Goodeve, who always had work to do in the train on his 

gling into a crowded compartment, he would say politely, "Would 
you mind if we put this under the seat ? It must ride crossways on the 
train." The projectile was then dropped with an ominous thud and 
levered under the seat. 

On his way out to stand in the corridor he would remark to his 
companion with well-assumed anxiety, "You did remember to re- 
move the fuse, didn't you?" It was never long before the passengers 
one by one found some pressing reason for deserting their hard-won 
seats, and for the rest of the journey Goodeve and his companions 
could settle down with their secret papers in splendid isolation. 

In the early days there was an attractive air of informality about 
life on the pier. For the visitors from London camp-beds were set up 
in a vast, draughty room filled with discarded slot machines, beer 
engines, and dismantled side-shows. It could be bitterly cold, for the 
strong winds from the Atlantic blew in fierce gusts through the 
uneven boarding, but before long Naval Stores, who normally 
viewed heaters as an unnecessary luxury, supplied a Tortoise stove. 
Unversed in the wiles of R.N.V.R. scientists, they were no doubt 
impressed by the explanation that it was urgently needed "for boiling 
pitch to fill projectiles." 

In the autumn of 1941 several officers were posted to Birnbeck for 
full-time duty. Among them was James Close, who had been work- 
ing at Exeter on wire devices, and who was to direct affairs at Birn- 
beck for some eighteen months. He was later succeeded by 
Lieutenant-Commander C. N. Boswell, R.N.V.R., a member of the 
department from its very early days. Boswell had first helped to 
develop the Parachute and Cable, and later he had joined forces 
with Richardson on the task of producing a revolutionary new type 
of anti-submarine flare. 

To help with the Hedgehog trials two ratings arrived and slung 
their hammocks in the Tea Room. One of them, Leading Seaman 
Johnson, became a mainstay of the establishment. Although he was 
apt to complain that the rigours of mudlarking brought on his "rheu- 
matics," he accepted his strange new environment and duties philo- 
sophically, and he soon showed himself to be a man of resource. The 
messing arrangements for the ship's company were somewhat erratic 
at first, but Johnson would supplement his own meals from time to 
time by the simple expedient of emptying a basket of stones on to the 
heads of surprised seabirds as they fought over offal tipped from the 
end of the pier. Before they recovered from the shock the bemused 
victims were lassoed and roasted ! 


For all development work the pier party were answerable to 
D.M.W.D., but locally H.M.S. Birnbeck came under the general 
control of the Naval Officer-in-Charge, Appledore a retired Rear- 
Admiral serving temporarily in the rank of Captain. To make mat- 
ters more complicated still, their immediate superior was the Resi- 
dent Naval Officer, Watchet a retired Vice-Admiral serving in the 
rank of Commander. This was John Casement, an Irishman of great 
chann, who took a dose interest in the pier's activities from the start. 
A tall, wiry man with greying hair, he was a strict disciplinarian, and 
the unconventional way in which some of his new charges went 
about their duties mudlarking prompted the strangest of attires 
disconcerted him a little at first. He realized, however, that for all 
its unorthodoxy the organization on the pier worked well. 

It became a tradition of Birnbeck that all hands c mucked in' to- 
gether when there was a pressing job to be tackled, and because the 
ratings were put into the picture as much as possible, and understood 
the nature and objects of the trials, there was never any shortage of 
volunteers to work right round the dock if necessary. 

After a while Admiral Casement moved his headquarters to 
Weston-super-Mare, and immediatdy life became full of surprises 
for him. Among the ingenious devices undergoing trials was the "Ex- 
pendable Noise-maker," designed to foil the enemy's acoustic tor- 
pedoes. This was fired from a mortar, like the Hedgehog bombs, and 
on sinking bdow the surface it caused a series of rhythmic detona- 

For some unremembered reason the first trials of this deverly con- 
ceived gadget were entrusted to the Army, who planned to fire the 
early rounds into shallow water just off the beach. With great care 
they measured the range, but they entirdy overlooked the fact that 
the mortar itself, mounted on a wing of the pier, was forty feet above 
sea-levd. To their intense surprise the first round sailed dean over 
the water and exploded in mid-air outside a cliff-side caf 6, which 
emptied rapidly. 

Much puzzled, the soldiers made a slight adjustment of devation, 
and dropped the second round a yard from Admiral Casement's 
office. The outburst of wrath which followed led Boswdl to search 
for fresh fidds when a more advanced type of Noise-maker came up 
for trial. The improved modd was a formidable affair a large, 
rocket-propelled container which burst open, ejecting various explod- 
ing objects and, noting with some misgivings that no fins had been 
fitted to stabilize its flight, Boswell and Jesse Wyllie, an R.N.V.R. 
lieutenant who enjoyed experimenting with infernal machines, de- 
cided to try it out on Brean Down. As a precautionary measure the 
first round was fired directly out to sea, but, as this flew reasonably 


One of the catapult tracks can be seen in the right-hand corner. 



1 Photograph by the author I45 




straight, they aimed the next along the edge of the water to give the 
recovery party on the beach below a chance to salve the wreckage for 

To their astonishment the second rocket behaved quite differently. 
After flying perfectly straight for several hundred yards it shot off at 
right angles to its original course, disappearing inland at high speed. 
They v heard it explode in the distance, uncomfortably near to a farm, 
and with some misgivings they set off to investigate. 

It was not long before they met an irate man carrying a tangled 
mass of blackened metal. 

"Where did it land?" they asked. 

The farmer glowered. "In my chicken run . . . that's where it 

"What a lucky thing," said Wyllie, trying to get the conversation 
on to a more genial plane. "Where were you at the time?" 

"Where was I?" bellowed the aggrieved farmer. "In the bloody 
chicken run!" 

After that all experiments with the Noise-maker were removed 
even farther from the environs of Weston. 

In point of fact, however, it was not easy to find trial grounds 
remote enough for some of the more unpredictable weapons and 
devices. A convenient area lay above Middle Hope Cove, where a 
belt of rough moorland sloped down to the sea, but beyond this, over 
the brow of the hill, lay Woodspring Priory, farmed by two brothers 
named Burrough, who stoically endured the most startling incon- 

Having stampeded their horses and cattle unwittingly on several 
occasions with the more lethal version of the P.A.C., Close felt that 
some friendly gesture was due to the Burrough brothers for carrying 
out their daily tasks under fire, and one day an opportunity presented 
itself. The fanners reported that damage was being done on their 
land by badgers, and Close promptly assured them that H.M.S. 
Birnbeck would be only to glad to remove the marauders by the 
most up-to-date methods. 

From the store on the pier he collected an impressive assortment 
of 6-inch cordite tubes, old flares, and rockets, and half a hundred- 
weight of these was stuffed into the badgers 9 lair. The operation was 
a humiliating failure. Although the pillar of fire, earth, and stones 
which erupted should have discouraged every living creature for 
miles around, the badgers seemed impervious to explosives, and only 
a few days later they were sighted busily tidying up their shattered 

By the time the big explosive P.A.C. called "Type J" was ready 
for service the enemy were carrying out low-level raids on the Bristol 


Channel area. The bombers passed close to Weston-super-Mare, and 
the pier was heavily armed with Type J's in the hope of testing them 
in action. News of the device on the pier reached the War Office, 
and a novel query came to D.M.W.D. Could their new weapon 
designed to operate against aircraft be used to ensnare German 

The Brigade of Guards supplied a Valentine tank, which was 
driven to the foreshore below Brean Down. It had some difficulty in 
completing the last stage of its long journey, for as it turned off the 
main Bridgwater road into the narrow, winding lane to the sea a 
fault developed in the clutch plate and the tank embedded itself in 
the side of a small hostelry. 

The trial of Type J in its new r&le was, however, a great success. 
Smothered in 600 feet of immensely strong wire, the Valentine was 
brought to a grinding halt, and its tracks became so hopelessly en- 
meshed that it took two days' hard work before the tank was able to 
struggle off the beach. 

Projects under examination at Birnbeck became more and more 
varied. The team on the pier worked on a "Water Hammer" a 
device for absorbing a weapon's recoil in the sea. There were drop- 
ping trials of 6oo-pound bombs with hydrostatic fuses which had to 
be laboriously recovered from the depths of the bay. Development 
work was also carried out on "Weasels" tracked vehicles for nego- 
tiating snow and mud and one of these overturned on the way to 
Brean, killing the driver and trapping Lieutenant Ritchie in a water- 
filled ditch, where he was all but drowned. 

Ritchie's main activities were concerned with research into a new 
method of distilling water for ship's lifeboats, and another impor- 
tant task was the evolution of the new anti-submarine starshell 
invented by Richardson. Elaborate silhouette tests were staged with 
dummy submarines, and at night teams fired shells from Flat Holm, 
a small uninhabited island six miles out to sea, the illumination being 
measured with special instruments on the pier. On one occasion 
Close and a D.M.W.D. party, marooned on Flat Holm for a consider- 
able period, discovered to their cost that the island was not, after all, 
entirely unpopulated. They were attacked and mercilessly bitten by 
myriads of giant fleas! 

Mudlarkmg continued incessantly off the north side of the pier, 
and a stalwart performer was Donald Lamb, a tall, hawk-nosed 
R.N.V.R. lieutenant with inexhaustible energy and the strength of 
an ox. He could carry two Hedgehog projectiles, which weighed 
over 60 pounds each, across the mud and wet sand without any 
apparent effort a feat which much impressed the ratings but per- 
haps he was happiest when conducting researches with high explo- 


sive. He once startled Boswell by firing some shaped charges into the 
very foundations of the pier, which, one way and another, took a 
good deal of punishment from its temporary occupants. Perhaps its 
severest test came, however, when Wyllie elected to drive a three- 
ton lorry laden with gravel down the pier's entire length of frail 
planking ! 

The Wheezers and Dodgers had their own workshops on the pier, 
but many of the small engineering jobs which cropped up were car- 
ried out ashore by a local firm, the presiding genius of which was 
Dick Crowe, a vigorous, grey-haired man in his fifties who also 
owned one of Weston-super-Mare's leading hotels. An amazingly 
resourceful engineer, he readily undertook the welding of Hedgehog 
rounds, the making of rocket trolleys and catapults, the machining of 
spigot mountings, and anything else which came to hand. When he 
was ftnst enrolled as an unofficial recruit to D.M.W.D. a slipway was 
badly needed for hauling some of the small trials craft up the steep 
gradient to the boat-house on the pier. Crowe solved this problem by 
adapting an old catapult track, and, salvaging the masts from a 
derelict ship, he used these as sheerlegs to lower the track into posi- 
tion. A wheeled carriage was built, and the slipway had just been 
successfully tested when an official arrived from the works depart- 
ment of the Admiralty. 

Inspecting the slipway, he pronounced it quite impracticable. It 
could not possibly work, he said, and when Crowe proved to him that 
it functioned perfectly he demanded to see the drawings. Fumbling 
in his pocket, Crowe unearthed a very dirty envelope covered with 
hieroglyphics which were completely incomprehensible to the 
astonished official. After much argument the slipway was allowed 
to remain, and it served its purpose admirably for the rest of the 

It was the resourceful Crowe, too, who extricated the D.M.W.D. 
party from an embarrassing misadventure with a 2oo-ton mine- 
recovery vessel which they put well and truly ashore one day when 
trying to get up to moorings in the river Axe on the highest tide of 
the year. 

A rescue team arrived to find the vessel high and dry in a meadow, 
with several cows unconcernedly grazing around her, and although 
they waited hopefully for the next spring tide this failed to reach her 
by a good five feet. Among his many activities Dick Crowe was a 
member of the Auxiliary Fire Service, and, borrowing Weston-super- 
Mare's biggest fire-engine, he first cut away the ground from under 
the ship with a hose, and then carved a channel right back to the 
river-bed. The mine-recovery vessel thus regained the open sea before 
news of her stranding reached the Admiral at Appledore, but there- 


after she leaked like a sieve, and could only be kept afloat with the 
aid of a trailer fire-pump, installed on the upper deck and manned 
continuously ! 

Minor contretemps of this kind did much to dispel the monotony 
of the heavy trials programme carried on day in and day out. For 
the most part the testing of weapons and devices was a laborious 
process of trial and error, calculation and analysis, which called for 
unlimited patience and meticulous attention to detail. There was, in 
truth, little glamour in the routine work carried on at Weston-supcr- 
Mare, but the very nature and object of the trials provided a stimulus 
which kept every one at concert pitch. Gradually the emphasis in 
D.M.W.D.'s programme shifted from defensive measures to prepara- 
tion for attack, and, although the part played by the Wheezers and 
Dodgers in the war's final phase will be dealt with later, some of 
Birnbeck's activities in this phase can be described more appropri- 
ately here. 

Looking ahead to the invasion of Europe, it was plain that the 
Navy would have to find means of clearing the mines from enemy 
beaches. When ports were captured they would also have to demolish 
blockships and other obstacles sunk in the approaches to enemy 

At Whitchurch Brinsmead had long been concentrating on this 
wreck-dispersal problem. A way of focusing the explosive effect of 
underwater charges so that the destruction was greatly magnified, 
had been discovered, and Brinsmead, using this method, carried out 
exhaustive tests against the submerged hull of the Fernwood, a 
steamer filled with reinforced concrete and sunk off Weston-super- 

The Wheezers and Dodgers were the only organization in the 
Navy pursuing experiments with shaped charges, and the trials 
attracted much attention in scientific circles. One day Dr Guggen- 
heim arrived from London with an American professor who was 
anxious to study the results, and Boswdl told them that at low water 
springs they would be able to walk right out to the wreck. The sands, 
however, were extremely treacherous, and only by following the path 
of a small rill running across the beach could they reach tie ship in 

The two scientists plainly thought that too much fuss was being 
made about a simple seaside ramble, and struck out boldly on what 
they considered to be the most direct route. In next to no time they 
were in serious difficulties, and the American professor sank up 
to his knees in the shifting sand. The tide turned, and in the 
end they only just managed to drag him dear before the sea reached 


To explode minefields laid on enemy beaches Dr Guggenheim 
invented an apparatus which was given the code name of "Hedge- 
row." Very similar to the Hedgehog, it was designed to be fired from 
a special type of landing-craft, the beaches being drenched by salvos 
of bombs which exploded just above ground-level. 

To test its lethal radius the Birnbeck team laid specimen German 
minefields beneath the sand on Berrow Flats, and when some sixty 
mines had been buried in mathematically precise patterns a Hedgerow 
bomb would be detonated in the centre of the field. Hundreds of 
actual German Teller mines lifted from the Western Desert, 
cleaned and reset were used, and day after day fresh minefields 
were laid, first on the beach and later in shallow water. 

The work grew increasingly hazardous, for it was known that the 
Teller mines deteriorated dangerously after six months, and the 
Birnbeck trials parties were using some at least two years old. When 
the early reports of the countemiining experiments reached London 
a redoubtable woman scientist, Dr David, queried some of 
D.M.W.D.'s figures, and volunteered to take part in the trials herself. 
She had several narrow escapes, once counter-mining a field from 
which the detonators had not been withdrawn, and eventually in- 
structions came from the War Office that all Teller mines of a cer- 
tain vintage should be destroyed. As the development of Hedgerow 
had such a vital bearing on the fate of any invasion attempt, and the 
Wheezers and Dodgers were then on the brink of success, the order 
was boldly 'misinterpreted.' Hedgerow made its first appearance at 
the Salerno landings, and we shall return to its career in action 
later on. 

Considering the large part which explosives played in the daily 
life at Birnbeck, there were singularly few mishaps. The one acci- 
dent which became a legend in the naval history of the pier was not, 
in fact, directly related to any experiment at all. 

A prominent member of the Birnbeck team was Dr H. S. Hatfidd, 
a physicist and a clever inventor who did many of the higher mathe- 
matical calculations for D.M.W.D. In appearance he personified the 
scientist of fiction, with his spectacles, his luxuriant moustache, and 
his vague manner, and, being a somewhat Bohemian character, 
the happy informality of life on the pier strongly appealed to him. 

He set up a laboratory in the confectionery shop, which thence- 
forward became known as Hatter's Castle, and long into the night 
he would work there on problems which Goodeve sent down to him. 
One particularly dark night he emerged, deep in meditation, and 
after pacing up and down for a while he turned to lean on the rail- 
ings of the pier. Absent-mindedly he chose the one spot where the 
railings had been removed to enable the Hedgehog mortar to be 


fired, and he fell forty feet on to the rocks below. Later in the night 
some one woke, and, noticing that Hatfield's bed had not been slept 
in, went to investigate. By a miracle, Hatfield, unconscious and badly 
injured, was discovered just before the sea covered the rocks on 
which he was lying. Happily he made a rapid recovery, but to this 
day visitors to the pier are shown the site of "Hatter's Leap" with 
understandable awe. 

It was a visit by Lane to Dr Barnes Wallis, chief designer to 
Vickers, which led indirectly to the most spectacular series of trials 
carried out at Birnbeck. 

At the end of 1942 D.M.W.D. became interested in the possibilities 
of a pilotless aircraft for laying smoke over invasion beaches, and Lane 
remembered that much earlier in the war Wallis had put forward a 
suggested design on these lines for a small 'plane which could be 
catapulted from the deck of a cruiser, and then controlled by 

He went to see Wallis, and soon they were talking about a very 
different project. Wallis had evolved an earthquake bomb, which 
operated on entirely new principles, and the targets he had in mind 
for this giant missile were Germany's great dams the Mohne, the 
Eder, and the Sorpe which fed power to the whole of the industrial 
Ruhr. But he could get no support for this revolutionary develop- 
ment in bombing technique. 

As he told Lane of his vain fight to interest people in high places 
Lane became more and more fascinated by the scheme. He reported 
the conversation to Jock Davies and Goodeve, but they pointed out 
that D.M.W.D. were powerless to secure the aircraft which Wallis 
needed for trials of the earthquake bomb. Goodeve, however, sug- 
gested that Lane should approach Rear-Admiral E. de F. Renouf, 
who at that time was working with a small staff on secret projects 
concerning human torpedoes and midget submarines. Renouf was 
always receptive to scientific proposals, and he had the ear of the 
Board of Admiralty. When he saw a demonstration of the small- 
scale version of Wallis's bomb in a tank at the National Physical 
Laboratory at Teddington he acted immediately. 

On the following day he brought members of the Board of Admi- 
ralty to watch a further trial in the tank, and Wallis was told to go 
ahead with the production of eight half -size prototypes of his bomb. 
A special naval Wellington was secured, straight off the production 
line, and Lane arranged with the Flag Officer, Portland, for drop- 
ping trials off Chesil Beach. D.M.W.D. also laid on torpedo nets, 
buoys, and all the other gear needed for the trials. 

Weeks of intensive experiment followed. There were more trials 


in the big tank at Teddington, and so much activity with the Wel- 
lington and Wallis's secret projectiles at Chesil Beach that some one 
in authority complained that the breeding of the King's Swans, at 
near-by Abbotsbury, was being seriously disturbed ! 

Films taken at Chesil Beach finally convinced the Air Council 
that the bomb could achieve all Wallis claimed for it, and the whole 
project was then taken over by the Ministry of Aircraft Production. 
By this time Lane had become an indispensable member of the Dam- 
busting trials party, and to enable him to continue his work on the 
project Jock Davies agreed to his temporary transfer to M.A.P. 

The story of the later stages in the development of Wallis's bomb 
and the successful attack on the German dams has already been 
vividly described. 1 D.M.WJX's part was now at an end, but research 
work on the Wallis bomb led to some remarkable experiments in a 
different direction at Birnbeck. It was proposed to apply certain prin- 
ciples in the operation of the dam-busting bomb to a naval version 
fired horizontally from motor-torpedo boats, and trials began at 

The early results, using a cordite propellent, were not encouraging, 
for the projectile an explosive sphere like a monster football 
could only be induced to amble a mere fifty yards. When operations 
were transferred to Birnbeck a different method of propulsion was 

A catapult track was laid on the northern wing of the pier, and 
down this it was planned to fire a rocket-propelled trolley on which 
the projectile was mounted. Protruding from the front of the trolley 
were two tapered steel rams, designed to enter hydraulic cylinders 
acting as a buffer at the far end of the runway, so that the trolley 
came to a dead stop while the missile hurtled on its course. 

When this scheme was explained, Dick Crowe, for one, had serious 
misgivings, for the trolley alone weighed six hundredweight, and 
even in the short space of the track's length it was expected to reach 
a speed of 200 m.p.h. It seemed probable that the shock of bringing 
it to a dead halt would carry the whole jetty forward. And even 5 
the pier itself stood the strain some of the Wheezere and Dodgers 
feared that the hydraulic buffers would burst asunder. 

In an attempt to take some of the stress off the pier the track was 
anchored back to the rocky island below by sk huge hawsers, but 
before the secret missile could be fired from this somewhat precari- 
ous position Higher Authority decreed that the project was insecure 
on more grounds than the safety of the pier itself. Too much might 
be seen by onlookers from the shore. 

So they moved to Brean Down. High above the sea, it was not an 
1 Vide The Dam Busters, by Paul Brickhill (Evans, 1951). 


ideal site, either for testing or recovering the missile, but there they 
could at least learn something of its behaviour, and the working of 
the rocket trolley, before they settled on a more suitable base for the 

Drenched by clouds of freezing spray, they set to work on the 
exposed headland, laboriously levelling a stretch of the rock-strewn 
ground. When the runway itself was ready, a blast wall of sandbags, 
filled with cement, was built up round the back of the buffers at the 
seaward end to reinforce the hydraulic stopping gear. 

The stage was now set for the launching of the missile. The small 
party gathered on the ridge behind the trolley, with its twelve 2-inch 
rockets, waited tensely for the signal to fire, no one quite knowing 
what to expect. When Wyllie pressed the firing key the trolley, 
enveloped in flame, hurtled down the track like a meteor. With a 
shattering roar it drove straight through the buffers, and the massive 
blast wall behind just disintegrated. The air was filled with a whirl- 
ing mass of sandbags, wire hawsers, and pieces of sheet steel, and the 
trolley, its rockets still belching tongues of yellow flame, vanished 
from sight over the diff edge. 

This was a chastening setback, and much discussion took place 
before the next move was made. They could not afford to cut down 
the speed of the trolley, but it was equally obvious that no hydraulic 
mechanism would stand up to the colossal impact. Neither would 
the trolleys themselves survive more than one high-speed run. 

Both these problems were soon solved. In place of all the parapher- 
nalia used in the first, ill-starred trial Richardson suggested that the 
trolley should be allowed to run into a wall of sand, and when this 
was tried at Middle Hope Cove it worked perfectly. 

Two new tracks were laid at the Cove one at sea-level and one 
ten feet higher, to allow for variations in the tide and the new 
launching site proved better in every way. The giant ball could be 
fired roughly in line with the shore, and along its course marker 
posts were set up in the sea at 2o-yard intervals. In line with these, 
high-speed cameras were mounted on the beach, and Hatfield, who 
by now had prudently exchanged his living quarters on the pier for 
a tent at Middle Hope, installed an immensely complicated electrical 
timing mechanism to record the velocity of every round. 

Now begaii a long series of trials, which proved both hazardous 
and exhausting. The hazards sprang from the unpredictability of 
the rockets; it was exhausting work because, accustomed though they 
were to retrieving Hedgehog rounds, the Wheezers and Dodgers had 
a far more difficult problem at Middle Hope. The huge steel balls 
weighed more than 70 pounds, and they had to be recovered from 
mud which was 13 feet deep in places. Every time the lower track 


was used tons of shingle and seaweed had to be shovelled from the 
runway, and on one memorable occasion D.M.W.D.'s working party 
unearthed the odorous remains of two dead sheep ! 

Throughout its scale trials the secret missile achieved encouraging 
results. Its terrific speed across the surface of the water made it more 
impressive than a torpedo, and it had certain formidable idiosyn- 
crasies which promised to complicate any attempts at counter- 
measures. After it had been put through its paces in front of Vice- 
Admiral Wake-Walker and other Admiralty observers D.M.W.D. 
were told to embark on full-scale trials at sea. 

For these D.M.W.D. used an old barge called Mary. They fitted 
her with a special firing tube and towed her to Middle Hope, where 
she was then moored securely fore and aft. The rocket-catapult 
system hitherto used for propelling the secret missile was now dis- 
carded in favour of an explosive charge. 

From this point, however, the development of the weapon slowed 
down. A long-term project, it had to give way to more pressing 
requirements, for by the time the Wheezers and Dodgers began trials 
on board the barge preparations for the invasion of Europe were 
being hurried forward. To D.M.W.D. came a flood of urgent tasks. 
They tackled more advanced designs of rocket landing-craft, compo- 
nents for Mulberry Harbour, explosive motor-boats, and the prob- 
lems of mooring Pluto, the giant pipeline; they experimented with 
several different devices for beach clearance, including a canvas hose 
filled with nitroglycerine, and perfected ingenious rocket gear for 
cliff -climbing; they evolved incendiary floats, radar buoys for guid- 
ing the invasion fleet, and a novel contraption called the "Helter 
Skelter" which speeded up the disembarkation of troops. The story 
of all these endeavours will be told in due course. They called for 
intense efforts from the team on the pier, and as a result the experi- 
ments with the weapon at Middle Hope never came to full fruition. 

Some headway was made with the firing trials on the barge, but 
great difficulty was found in reaching the required range, and in 
their efforts to increase the velocity of the projectile they finally 
stepped up the explosive charge far beyond the safe limit of the tube. 

The outcome was almost as startling as the maiden journey of the 
rocket trolley at Brean, for the missile screamed past the marking 
post at the end of the range, and then, for some unknown reason, it 
swerved sharply towards the shore. Jumping a sea wall, it plunged 
across the headland at the end of the cove, putting to flight a herd 
of terrified cattle, and it was last seen heading out over the Atlantic. 

Further intensive research was plainly necessary, but this was fore- 
stalled by the march of other events, and the war's swif t climax came 
before the problems of the giant ball were fully solved. The same fate 


overtook another Martian missile a flying-saucer bomb invented 
by a Norwegian naval officer which was also put through catapult 
trials before the Wheezers and Dodgers left Birnbeck. 

If the experiments with these secret weapons yielded no immedi- 
ate and tangible success, however, D.M.W.D. were far from dissatis- 
fied. The pier party had collected scientific data of considerable 
value. And future conflict is only too likely to reveal its significance. 


THE story of the pier has taken us ahead of events. Invasion 
of Europe was a far-distant prospect when trials began at 
Birnbeck, for Britain and the remnant forces of her allies still 
stood alone, and very survival hung on the outcome of the war at 
sea. In the eight weeks of May and June 1941 enemy submarines 
sank 1 19 ships totalling 635,635 tons. From all causes the Allies lost 
nearly a million tons of shipping during this brief period. 

In the Admiralty a special committee, under Professor P. M. S. 
Blackett, was formed to investigate all possible means of attacking 
submarines, and Norway, who attended several of its meetings, 
repeatedly pressed for the use of rockets. He had discussed with 
Goodeve, several months earlier, an idea for mounting 2-inch rockets 
under the wings of Swordfish aircraft, and using them to attack oil- 
storage tanks and similar targets, but at the time there was no scope 
for the Fleet Air Arm in such a r&le and nothing came of the pro- 

He now returned to the charge. The weapon he had in mind was 
a very simple affair a rocket-propelled spear with a cast-iron, fluted 
head which would rip a large hole in the pressure hull of a U-boat 
but perhaps its very simplicity told against it. The minds of the 
committee seemed fixed on more refined and scientific devices, and 
even Goodeve, who was attracted to the idea, was not altogether 
satisfied that Norway's theory could be translated into practice. 

"Why on earth shouldn't it work?" said Norway testily, after one 
particularly abortive meeting in the Admiralty. "You can spear a 
fish quite successfully, and the principle is exactly the same. There 
was nothing wrong with the trials we did in the tank at Teddington." 

"I know there wasn't," Goodeve admitted, "but I still don't think 
it will keep straight after impact. It will turn over." 

They gave the Rocket Spear some more ambitious tests at Birn- 
beck. It emerged triumphantly, and after that Goodeve was no 
longer sceptical. But outside D.M.W.D. no one showed any interest 
in the weapon, and it was not until the Army asked for rockets to be 


tried as anti-tank missiles that Norway got a chance to justify his 

For the anti-tank trials the R.A.F. allocated a Hurricane, and 
somewhat reluctantly they agreed to test the Spear against submarine 
plating at the same time. 

Among those who heard of the trials about to take place was 
Admiral Sir Max Horton, who as Commander-in-Chief, Western 
Approaches, was now directing the Battle of the Atlantic from his 
headquarters at Liverpool. Horton was "that rara avis among 
admirals, a technician who had completely mastered the scientific 
discoveries and devices brought in to aid ships and aircraft engaged 
in the battle against the U-boats." 1 And he immediately dispatched 
one of his staff, Commander Phillimore, to Boscombe Down to see 
if the Rocket Spear had possibilities. Phillimore was greatly im- 
pressed by the trials, and when he reported enthusiastically on the 
new weapon Horton at once urged the Admiralty to adopt it. 

At first they were loath to hasten development, pointing out that 
no proper sight had yet been designed, but Max Horton was a deter- 
mined and forceful man who generally got his own way. "It seems 
incredible," wrote Phillimore later, "but it is true that only eight 
weeks elapsed to introduce the new weapon, get aircraft fitted with 
it, crews trained in its use, and get a kill with it in mid-Atlantic." 

It seemed incredible to Norway too. For months he had tried 
unsuccessfully to make people understand its potentialities. But even 
when his arguments were reinforced with evidence from the trials at 
Birnbeck few had listened. As soon as Admiral Horton's interest was 
known, however, the Rocket Spear was given immediate priority. 

Norway paid one or two visits to the Royal Aircraft Establishment 
at Farnborough, to see that the weapon took shape on the right lines. 
After that there was nothing more for him to do but await develop- 
ments. They were not long in coming. 

A flight of Swordfish embarked in H.M.S. Archer, an escort 
carrier supporting Atlantic convoys, was armed with the Rocket 
Spear. At the same time the missile was fitted to an R.A.F. Beaufort 
squadron based at Gibraltar. It then became a race between the two 
Services for the first kill. 

The Archer sailed for the United States, and had an entirely 
uneventful passage; patrolling in the Mediterranean approaches, the 
Beaufort squadron also drew a blank. Then, returning from the 
North American coast with a convoy eastward bound, one of 
Archers Swordfish pilots sighted a U-boat. Before she could dive he 

* Excerpt from a letter written by Commander R. A. B. Phillimore, R.N., to 
Horton s biographer, Rear-Admiral W. S. Chalmers, and published in Max 
Horton and the Western Approaches (Hodder and Stoughton, 1954). 


got a hit with a rocket, which holed the pressure hull, and now there 
was no escape. "She tried to fight it out on the surface with her gun, 
but the Swordfish which had dealt the blow called up a Martlet 
fighter from the Archer. The submarine's crew, overcome by 
machine-gun fire, sank their boat and leapt into the sea." 1 When they 
were picked up survivors asked in amazement what had hit them. 
All they knew of the first attack was a sudden, tremendous bang on 
the pressure hull, and the spear passed right through the boat. 

From other survivors the crew of an Italian submarine sunk in 
the Mediterranean came a graphic description of the devastation 
caused by the Rocket Spear. 

In this case the weapon was fired at such dose range that the 
rocket was still burning when the spear smashed its way into the 
engine-room. Once inside the hull of the submarine it ricocheted off 
the engines, and thrashed wildly about before tearing a way out on 
the opposite side of the boat. On its passage back into the sea it 
ripped a second hole three feet wide. 

Norway was away from London when the news of the Rocket 
Spear's first kill reached the Admiralty. From Goodeve he received 
the following message: 

You will be pleased to hear, if you haven't done so already, that the 
Anti-Submarine Rocket Projectiles from aircraft scored a success the 
first time they were used. I am particularly pleased as it fully sub- 
stantiates the foresight you showed in pushing this in its early stages. 
My congratulations. 

It was, indeed, a happy sequel to the frustrating months when 
most of the Admiralty's advisers on U-boat warfare had refused to 
consider the Spear as anything more than an eccentric reversion to 
methods of the Stone Age. 

As measures against them were intensified the U-boats began to 
rely increasingly on the cover of darkness. Homed on to our convoys 
either by signals from the big Focke-Wulf aircraft which ranged 
far out into the Atlantic or by directions transmitted from Doenitz's 
headquarters ashore at Kerneval, in Northern France, the German 
submarines would trail their victims at a discreet distance until night 
fell. Then they would close in on the surface. 

During the final approach the U-boats were trimmed for diving, 
with decks awash, and only the conning tower was really visible. 
Even on a light night it was not easy to see them when they were 
much over half a mile away. On the other hand, the U-boat could 
sight its larger quarry at six times the distance. 

1 Max Horton and the Western Approaches, p. 194. 


What was urgently needed was a method of turning night into 
day both immediately over a convoy, to reveal any U-boat which 
might have penetrated the screen of escorting ships, and farther out 
on the flanks to a distance of some 4000 yards, so that fire could be 
opened on any submarine approaching on the surface. For the first 
task the Navy already possessed a large and brilliant flare called the 
"Snowflake," and to increase its effect D.M.W.D. were asked to 
find a way of projecting this to a greater height. 

With the aid of the indefatigable Schermuly brothers Richardson 
solved this problem within a week, fitting the flare and its parachute 
into the head of a standard P.A.C. rocket, which carried the Snow- 
flake to well over a thousand feet. But still the difficulty of illuminat- 
ing the area outside the convoy screen remained. Searchlights could 
not be used, for they showed all too clearly the position of the search- 
ing ship, and the only alternative was the standard naval starshell 
fired from a 4-inch gun. 

This latter method had two serious disadvantages. The 4-inch 
was the only gun which many of the escort vessels possessed for 
engaging a U-boat, and they were therefore in no position to strike 
at the enemy if their only effective weapon was occupied in another 
r&le. Secondly, the gun had a slow rate of fire one round every ten 
seconds and using it to search through an arc of 60 degrees with 
starshell was a dangerously protracted business. Fast-moving targets 
could escape far into the outer darkness before even a small arc had 
been covered. 

Hitherto D.M.W.D. had never concerned themselves with illu- 
minants, and Goodeve's team had only been brought into the Snow- 
flake project because they were the Navy's acknowledged experts on 
rockets. Now, however, Richardson found himself worrying about 
this weak link in the protection of the convoys. For a fortnight he 
spent every spare moment studying technical reports of starshell 
trials, and the behaviour of different types of iUuminant. Then, 
armed with some rough drawings, he went to see Goodeve. 

"I believe I've got the answer to this starshell business. Do you 
think D.N.O. would agree to our trying it out?" 

Goodeve looked at tiie drawings. "It's pretty revolutionary," he 
said. " Still, we can put it up to them and see what they say." 

Then he stared at the notes in front of him again. Richardson's 
design the result of brilliantly resourceful and patient research 
work was unlike any other starshell ever invented. Planned for use 
in quick-firing a-pounder guns, it had no parachute, and, falling 
fast through the air, it was to burn for less than five seconds. But the 
method of operation was ingenious, for Richardson was suggesting 
that five of these shells should be in the air at once, their paths of 


light joining up and reinforcing each other so that a continuous 
sweep could be made at the rate of three degrees every second. 

"Currie has some useful reports on night-vision tests, and that's 
the fastest speed you can scan for small targets/' he explained. 

Goodeve nodded. "What about lighting the target once you've 
found it?" he asked. 

"I think that will work perfectly well. If the gun is kept on the 
same bearing you will get a continuous light from a succession of 

"Well," said Goodeve, "I hope you're right about all this. Til 
certainly put it up to D.N.O., but we shall probably be told it's 
quite impracticable." 

As they had expected, the Director of Naval Ordnance's staff 
were decidedly sceptical. And the Ordnance Board, with their 
characteristic mistrust of novelty, produced several emphatic reasons 
why Richardson's starshell could not possibly function. But 
D.M.W.D. were allowed to go ahead, and Richardson roped in 
Swan, Boswell, Lane, and Dr Purcell to help with the development 

As an initial target he aimed at producing a magnesium flare of 
some half a million candle-power which would burn for two seconds, 
but, to make certain that this would be powerful enough, teams 
armed with balloons and oxygen cylinders were sent to sea in the 
Bristol Channel. With the flares attached they were actuated by a 
delay fuse the balloons were then released, and cine-cameras on 
the pier at Birnbeck recorded the spreading path of light on the dark 
water. Prototypes of the flare were tested in wind tunnels, and, much 
to the alarm of Londoners, who feared that a new and dreadful 
form of air raid was imminent, Purcell even lit some on the roof of 
the Royal College of Science in Kensington. 

In this preliminary stage no snags were apparent, but when the 
Ordnance Board made the first actual shells Richardson was puzzled 
to find that they gave nothing like the illumination he had estimated. 
Filming the trajectory, he discovered that the magnesium stars were 
jamming in the nose of the shell when it burst. 

He explained this to the Ordnance Board, who claimed that if 
special tinplate cases were made for the flares this difficulty would 
not recur. The cases would instantly burn away when the shell 
exploded, and the stars would fall free. 

The Wheezers and Dodgers had no facilities for making the shells 
themselves. They were entirely in the hands of the Ordnance Board. 
When the next batch came up for trial Richardson was dismayed to 
find that there was little improvement. Testing them exhaustively 
on his own, he saw that all this extra work had been wasted. As the 


shells burst large parts of the Ordnance Board's tinplate casing 
remained intact and masked the burning flare. 

Once again D.M.W.D. had to go to the Ordnance Board and ask 
them to revise their design, but before doing so experiments were 
carried out in the laboratories of Imperial College. Purcell and Swan 
tried packing the 'stars' in a paper cover instead of the tinplate case, 
and immediately they found a remarkable improvement in the per- 
formance of the flare. 

This suggestion was therefore put to the Ordnance Board but it 
was flatly vetoed. Their pyrotechnic experts condemned it as unsafe 
and entirely unpractical, and the Board declined to have anything 
to do with the proposal. They were, they said, quite satisfied with 
the tinplate casing (which gave the low candle-power of 30,000), 
and refused to produce D.M.W.D.'s paper-covered 'star' for firing 

The arguments with the Ordnance Board had now taken the, 
project well into 1942 without any real progress being made, and 
unless some way could be found to prove that the new type of cover 
for the flare was feasible there seemed no way out of the deadlock. 
Goodeve decided to bypass the Board, and he took the problem to 
Imperial Chemical Industries. Looking at Richardson's specification, 
I.G.I. said they anticipated no particular difficulty over the produc- 
tion design, and in a very short time they presented D.M.W.D. with 
a star which burned, not at 30,000 candle-power, but at 400,000 ! 

Before the powerful new starshdl could be issued for action, how- 
ever, an important new development occurred in anti-submarine 
warfare. A new type of radar set which enabled rapid and continu- 
ous search for surfaced U-boats was fitted to convoy vessels in 1943. 
This deprived Richardson's starshdl of the main rQle for which it 
had been designed. These advanced radar sets were, however, in 
short supply; there were none for frigates and light Coastal Forces 
engaged in the E-boat war, and since the M.T.B.'s and motor-gun 
boats had no form of illuminant at all the 2-pounder starshell was a 

The earliest reports of its performance at sea surprised even 
Richardson. The captain of the M.G.B. which fired the first starshells 
in action ordered his gunlayer to aim directly at a German trawler. 
To his astonishment, the starshells caused instant and fierce fires. As 
they struck home a blazing white light illuminated the ship for 
several seconds, and immediately afterwards flames blazed out all 
over the superstructure. 

Richardson had not suspected the starshells to have any special 
incendiary properties, and, much intrigued, he carried out some 
laboratory tests of his own. He found that the shells would, in fact, 


easily pierce wooden hulls and light plating; on emerging the star 
burst over a wide area with a bright glow which would undoubtedly 
cause fires in the presence of petrol or oil leaks. 

It was therefore recommended that all Coastal Force craft should 
belt the starshell rounds alternately with their high-explosive ammu- 
nition, and on the night of October 24-25 they were thus used in a 
number of actions with E-boats. One commanding officer described 
the effect as devastating. Of three boats -attacked in one particular 
sector that night one was rammed and sunk, and the remaining two 
were quickly transformed into blazing wrecks by the starshells. 

Although the development of radar had limited the starshdl's 
scope, over a million of Richardson's shells were used in the next two 
years, and with this experience behind them the Wheezers and 
Dodgers went on to tackle a number of similar tasks. The most im- 
portant, perhaps, and certainly the most eventful of these projects 
was the "Water Snowflake." 

Aircraft searching the night seas with their A.S.V. apparatus 
found they needed a special type of flare which could be dropped into 
the water when they detected a U-boat, and to meet this need 
D.M.W.D. designed a novel apparatus. 

In a buoyant container was a rocket, a parachute, and a Snow- 
flake flare. When this was dropped into the sea the aircraft had time 
to fly in a circle in the darkness until the U-boat lay between the 
dormant Snowflake and the 'plane. The rocket^ was then ignited by 
a cell operated by the action of the sea-water, and the floating object 
suddenly came to life, the parachute flare being hurled a thousand feet 
into the air, where it burned for a minute, silhouetting the submarine 
for the attack. 

Translating this theory into practice, however, proved far from 
simple, for when the first containers were dropped during trials the 
parachutes which carried the apparatus down into the water from 
the aircraft generally wrapped itself round its load like a shroud and 
prevented the rocket from escaping. They got out of this difficulty by 
dropping the parachute head-first, with a weighted keel attached to 
it to drag it out of the way of the container, but problem number 
two was much more obstinate. When the rocket ignited sufficient 
power had first to be built up before it could dimb out of its floating 
container into the sky. The delay was only a matter of seconds, but 
in a rough sea the whole contraption might well be swamped before 
the rocket emerged. 

To test the Water Snowflake's behaviour afloat Boswell was lent 
an R.A.F. high-speed launch, and off Ramsgate they began prelimi- 
nary trials, dropping the apparatus into the sea astern, attached to a 
line which was paid out while the boat moved slowly ahead. Boswefl 


explained to the coxswain that the rocket was expected to fire after 
thirty seconds in the water, but the first Snowflake went off too close 
to the launch for the coxswain's liking. When the next was lowered 
into the water he decided that discretion was the better part of 
valour, and, opening the throttle, he went full ahead, completely for- 
getting that the proximity of the Snowflake to his launch depended 
entirely on the speed at which the line could be paid out. In a few 
swift seconds he was towing the Snowflake container horizontally, 
with the rocket pointing straight at the helpless observers on board, 
and by the time Boswell had explained by frantic shouts and gesticu- 
lations what was about to happen the launch had so much way on 
that nothing could be done to retrieve the situation. So every one 
lay flat on the open deck and waited for the explosion. At point- 
blank range how it missed the launch was a miracle, but the effect on 
the coxswain was salutary. For the rest of the day he treated the 
Water Snowflake with the deepest respect ! 

To overcome the swamping danger the department designed 
special lids known as "Bug-bafflers" which fitted over the top of 
the containers and were only knocked off by the rocket itself as it 
shot out. Once these were ready the R.A.F. launch and its reluctant 
crew again went to sea. Their task this time was to retrieve any 
Water Snowflakes which failed to function when dropped from the 
air, so that Boswell and his team could examine the defects. 

At first all went well. An elderly Fleet Air Arm 'plane flew up and 
down dropping the containers. Boswell timed them as they hit the 
water, and when any refused to go off the coxswain would bring the 
launch alongside and the gear would be hauled on board. 

The pilot of the 'plane seemed unduly anxious to get rid of his 
load, and, flying in tight circles, he dropped the Water Snowflakes 
at such a pace that after a while Boswell could no longer keep track 
of them all. A dozen had been retrieved safely, however, when he 
saw, to his dismay, that an enthusiastic aircraftman had just pulled 
a perfectly good container out of the water. Lying on the deck, it 
was smoking furiously, and Boswell knew it was just about to deto- 
nate. He picked it up to hurl it over the side, but it was too late. The 
Snowflake climbed straight out of his arms into the sky, to the con- 
siderable alarm of the pilot, who had chosen that precise moment to 
fly low over the launch as he dropped the last of his containers. 

One by one, however, the snags in the apparatus were cleared, and 
D.M.WJD.'s Water Snowflake was finally tested against a rival 
design sponsored by the Ministry of Aircraft Production. It came 
through with flying colours, although the preliminaries of the trial 
gave file Wheezers and Dodgers some uneasy moments. Instead of 
being staged at sea the demonstration was suddenly switched to a 


reservoir near London and no one knew whether PurcelTs sea- 
water cell, which was the nerve-centre of the whole apparatus, would 
function at all in a suburban reservoir. Humorists in the department 
suggested that he should insure against disaster by taking several 
packets of potato crisps with him, and doping the cells with the 
salt provided. Happily their fears proved groundless, for the Water 
Snowflake was a versatile device, and reassured them all by function- 
ing even in Admiralty tap-water ! 

Many other flare devices, too numerous to mention in this story, 
were evolved by D.M.W.D. as the war went on. Among them was a 
"Rocket Sea Marker," which Coulson helped to develop for speed- 
ing attacks on submerged submarines; another was an apparatus for- 
midably entitled the "Wave Amplitude Measurement Marker," 
which he produced with Francis to aid research into the problems of 
Mulberry Harbour. In D.M.W.D. this was the least popular of all 
the pyrotechnic experiments carried out by the department. Involv- 
ing the use of bags of chemical compound, which produced a self- 
igniting gas, phosphine, on contact with sea-water, not only was it 
dangerous to handle but it smelt quite overpoweringly of cats! 

The U-boat phase brought rapid expansion of the department's 
activities in yet another field. Radar was in its infancy when the war 
began, and although Admiral Somerville's original responsibilities 
included the development of radiolocation for naval use, Goodeve 
and his research team did not become concerned with it until the 
need arose for tracking the F.B.B. units which drifted so recklessly 
to various parts of Southern England. Dove, Harris, and Purcell then 
set to work to explore different means of getting echoes from 

As most readers will know, an object is tracked by radar through 
the transmission of radio waves which rebound from solid surfaces. 
The distance of the object is calculated by measuring the time which 
elapses between the sending out of the electro-magnetic signal and 
the return of the corresponding echo. A flat metal sheet reflects the 
radiation used in radar in much the same way as a mirror reflects 
light, but since D.M.W.D.'s experiments were mainly with balloons, 
which would not support any great weight, they had to search for 
different means of securing loud and clear echoes. 

The first promising results in this direction came when they en- 
closed their balloons in a mesh of copper wire, but they were still 
casting around for a less cumbersome alternative, when an Austrian 
named Theodor Suchy arrived one day at the office in Lower Regent 
Street. He brought with him a strange collection of bric--brac, 
which at first sight had no bearing on the problems of warfare some 


leaves from trees and bushes and some beautifully finished imitation 
jewellery which he had made for Miss Vivien Leigh to wear in the 
film of Ccesar and Cleopatra. As he examined them, however, 
Purcell saw with some excitement that all the objects were coated 
with a silvery substance he had never encountered before. Suchy 
explained that this was a metallizing process; it could be applied not 
only to firm, level surfaces, but to fabrics like calico. And calico was 
what the Wheezers and Dodgers were using for the covers of their 

The new process revolutionized the technique of reflecting radar 
waves. Suchy, an inventive and resourceful man who had been 
driven from his post in a German chemical works and was now 
established in England as a successful maker of fancy goods, showed 
how the conducting film of liquid could be applied to the surface of 
several balloons they chose for immediate trials. When these were 
filled with hydrogen and sent aloft they gave off echoes as strong as 
any all-metal sphere. 

The process was used for all manner of projects, and D.M.W.D. 
eventually became the chief authority in the Navy for developing 
radar counter-devices, the work absorbing the main energies of an 
entire section under Tom Swan and Lieutenant H. 'A. G. McKay, 
R.N.V.R. They produced aids to target practice, special buoys to 
help anti-submarine training^ devices to give echoes from lifeboats, 
and submarine decoys. 

It was known that German U-boats had their own type of Radar 
Decoy Balloon an apparatus romantically christened "Aphrodite." 
This consisted of a small steel float which looked like two pie-dishes 
fastened together. To it was tethered a balloon bearing streamers of 
metal foil, which flew like pennants in the wind, and when released 
from a submarine it skimmed away across the wave-tops, laying a 
false trail for any radar operator scanning the sea. 

Aphrodite was never very satisfactory, however, for it gave a 
fluctuating echo, the metal streamers tore in the wind, and the 
German scientists never overcame difficulties in adjusting the hydro- 
gen for the balloons. Unknown to the enemy, the Royal Navy had 
a much better decoy called the "Peardrop," which the Wheezers and 
Dodgers evolved. This was fitted with a float of different design, 
which removed the problem of adjusting the pressure in the balloon, 
and it gave off a consistent echo. On several occasions it was known 
that British submarines, releasing the Peardrop as they dived, were 
bdieved to be still on the surface, and German operators happily 
continued to track the decoy without suspecting that their quarry 
had long since disappeared* 


Before the concluding phase in the U-boat war was reached in 
the summer of 1943 Goodeve's team were to tackle many other 
tasks related to the Battle of the Atlantic. 

They produced a short-range mortar weapon called the "Uni- 
corn," designed to enable merchant ships to lob bombs at enemy 
submarines which managed to penetrate into the midst of convoys, 
but not all their efforts were directed to tracking and attacking the 
enemy. Science had a vital part, too, to play in saving life at sea. 
The Merchant Navy were suffering heavy casualties, and the indomi- 
table spirit they showed in the face of continual hazard is well illus- 
trated by a story which the master of one merchantman told to 
Commander Holbrook at an Admiralty interrogation. 

His ship was torpedoed in a full gale in the North Sea, and as she 
began to settle fast he ordered the crew into the boats. Two men 
the chief engineer and a greaser remained with the master on the 

When the ship sank a few minutes later the chief engineer was 
drowned, but after drifting helplessly for some time in mountainous 
seas the captain of the ship and the greaser came face to face. The 
convoy had gone on, and they were quite alone, with no hope of 
rescue to spur a last fight for life. But as the men passed each other 
the greaser called out cheerfully, "Kick your legs and enjoy your- 
self, skipper This is the last free bath we'll ever have!" Then he 

disappeared into the darkness. 

By a miracle both were sighted and rescued not long afterwards, 
but Fate rarely spared men cast on the water in such circmnstani 
The crying need was for better boats, better quick-release gear 
them afloat, and better equipment to sustain life for castaways, 
often faced a lone journey of a thousand miles or more to the nearest 

In D.M.W.D. one angle of this problem was tackled by Cooke. 
He and two friends had spent the summer of 1939 at Fleur de Lys, 
on the shores of Newfoundland, building a 28-ton ketch which they 
hoped to sail back to England. Now he began to design another type 
of boat which could be towed behind vessels in convoy, and would 
be large enough to take off the whole ship's company. 

H.M.S. Hiker, as she was known in the department, was a 75-foot 
steel boat, equipped with sails and a petrol engine giving a range of 
1500 miles. She was fitted with bunks and fully stored with provi- 
sions, blankets, and medical supplies, and to reach her the crew of 
the parent ship had merely to climb down scrambling nets hung over 
the stern. 

Cooke carried out exhaustive experiments with different keels and 
rigs on small copper models which he rashly endeavoured to test on 


the Round Pond in Kensington. The trials there, however, were 
continually interrupted by crowds of small boys, who kept challeng- 
ing him to races with their own model yachts; so work was trans- 
ferred to the greater seclusion of Staines Reservoir. The first full- 
scale prototype of H.M.S. Hiker did not get into production, unfor- 
tunately, until the perilous days for Allied ships at sea were almost 
at an end, but in another sphere of life-saving D.M.W.D. were able 
to make a very important contribution indeed. 

One day towards the end of 1941 Goodeve sent for Norway. For 
some time he had been analysing the causes of casualties at sea, and 
when Norway entered the room he pointed to a paragraph at the 
end of one of Trade Division's interrogation reports. 

"Is there any way we can help in this problem of fresh water for 
lifeboats?" he asked. "Time and again there's a reference in these 
reports to men dying of thirst before they can be picked up. Do you 
think your section could design a portable still for ships' boats which 
would really work?" 

Norway frowned. "An awful lot of people have had a shot at that 
before, and they haven't got very far. It's difficult to make an 
apparatus which is small enough, and yet produce a reasonable 
amount of water. Do you happen to know what proportion of these 
boats are motor-lifeboats?" 

"Not offhand but we can easily get hold of the figures. Why do 
you ask that?" 

"I was thinking of the airship days," said Norway. "When we 
were flying in fairly low temperature we used to be able to recover 
as much water from the exhaust as the weight of the petrol we con- 
sumed, just by condensing the exhaust gases from the main engines. 
With a boat I don't see why you shouldn't do the same thing. You 
could fit a long exhaust pipe, to run up and down the garboard 
strakes dose to the keel " 

"That's certainly worth trying," agreed Goodeve. "What about 
the still, though?" 

"Goodfellow's the best man Fve got to tackle that, and I'll put 
Ritchie on to the other job. It might be a good idea if he went to 
Southampton and had a talk to Cave-Browne-Cave, who's Professor 
of Engineering at the University there. He knows as much about the 
technique as anyone; he was in charge of the engine installations 
of R.IOI." 

"By aU means," said Goodeve. "We'll go ahead with both ideas. 
Let me know how you get on." 

Goodfellow, an immensely competent engineer who had already 
impressed Norway with his work on rocket weapons, heard about 
the still project with some misgivings. His dejection increased when 


he visited the Patent Office, for, browsing through the files there, he 
discovered that in the First World War no fewer than 980 patents 
had been taken out for small-boat stills in America alone. In civil 
life, however, Goodfellow had specialized in problems of oil-refinery 
construction, and as he searched for a means of generating and 
recovering the heat needed for condensation he found certain 
welcome parallels to difficulties he had overcome in his pre-war 

His terms of reference were to produce a still which would con- 
vert sea water to fresh water at the rate of one gallon an hour, and 
the apparatus had to be a small, compact affair fired by petrol or 
paraffin. Tackling every stage of the task himself, he spent several 
months in a small engineering shop attached to the chemical labora- 
tory of King's College, just off the Strand. And there, with his own 
hands, he built a plant Hke a tiny distillation unit a most ingenious 
and refined piece of engineering. 

The still itself was only the size of a jerry-can, but it could pro- 
duce twelve gallons of fresh water for every gallon of fuel. It was a 
revolutionary development; if the normal water-tanks of a lifeboat 
were filled with fuel the new still could produce twelve times the 
amount of fresh water hitherto available. 

In a year Goodfellow produced three different 'marks' of still, 
steadily improvin r its efficiency, and both the Army and the R.A.F. 
became keenly interested. In arid country like the Western Desert 
the Army saw its possibilities for supplying distilled water for the 
batteries of their motor transport and fighting vehicles; the R.A.F. 
needed supplies of sterile water for medical purposes; and demands 
for the new still became so widespread that its development occupied 
Goodfellow for two and a half yeans in all. At the same time other 
research organizations under the supervision of D.S.R. produced 
another very simple method of making sea-water drinkable by 
passing it through a special filter-bed. This method was widely 

Side by side with this task experiments proceeded with Norway's 
other project the recovery of water from the exhaust of engines. 
At the start the team working under Cave-Browne-Cave at South- 
ampton were by no means sure that water recovered from the ex- 
haust of a petrol engine would not prove poisonous. 

Although it had been common practice in airships to produce 
water in this way, no one had ever suggested drinking it, and Norway 
feared that the presence of tetra-ethyl-lead in petrol would affect 
any water drawn off from the exhaust system. It was discovered, 
however, that all the lead passed away with the carbon dioxide in 
the exhaust gases, and although the water they condensed was 


heavily contaminated with oil and carbon, it could be purified quite 
easily by using a special filter. 

As soon as it became known that the Wheezers and Dodgers were 
on the verge of success with this alternative method of water recovery 
the Army again stressed the difficulties they were facing in the 
Desert, and asked for priority to be given to the experiments. Heavy 
fighting was then in progress in North Africa, and the supply of fresh 
water was a constant anxiety. Norway felt sure that the apparatus 
taking shape at Southampton would solve this particular problem, 
for Army trucks moved mainly at night, when temperatures in the 
Desert were low, and in these conditions it seemed likely that fresh 
water might well be recovered at the rate of at least a gallon for every 
gallon of fuel burned by the truck's engines. 

A Bedford lorry was loaned to D.M.W.D., and on top of the cab 
was mounted a large, honeycombed radiator. Special tanks and fil- 
tering apparatus were installed, and under the chassis they fitted a 
set of long, air-cooled exhaust pipes. 

Ritchie, who had been given a free hand by Norway, then set off 
on a "Round Britain Tour" of 5000 miles, running day and night 
to test the equipment under varied conditions. While these trials 
were going on the Admiralty installed another water-recovery unit 
in a Fairmile motor-launch and tested it at sea, for it was now 
realized that the apparatus might well remove one of the greatest 
difficulties encountered in landing operations in tropical countries. 
Transport of water for men and vehicles on the beaches was a major 
operation in itself, but Norway pointed out that, as any invasion was 
bound to be supported by large numbers of landing-craft, each of 
these could now generate fresh water continuously as they made 
their way to and from the beaches. They would therefore be in a 
position to land many gallons of water for the troops ashore without 
any extra transport at all. 

Ritchie's marathon journey with the truck proved that the appara- 
tus could do all that the Army required. They were, in fact, so 
impressed that a message came from the War Office: "Surely the 
Navy can go one stage further now, and give us an apparatus which 
produces unlimited quantities of gin I" 

Like many of the projects carried to a successful technical conclu- 
sion by the Wheezers and Dodgers, the outcome of their researches 
into water-recovery had its disappointing side. Scientific develop- 
ments cannot always keep precisely in step with the course of the war 
itself, and by the time this particular apparatus was ready for ser- 
vice the fighting in North Africa was at an end. Instead of the 
parched desert, the Allied armies were fighting their way slowly 
up the heel of Italy, where water abounded, and Ritchie and his 


helpers reflected a little sadly that their efforts for the Army might, 
indeed, have been more profitably employed in adapting their 
apparatus to produce gin ! For the Navy, however, D.M. W.D.'s dis- 
coveries were of immediate value, and the importance of Good- 
fellow's work was later recognized by the Royal Commission on 
Awards to Inventors. 

The story of the Wheezers and Dodgers' activities in this field 
would not be complete without reference to the Johannesburg experi- 

A young naval surgeon walked into Norway's office one morning 
and said he had heard about the stills for ships' lifeboats. 

"I suppose you are aware that in certain abdominal operations 
where liquid cannot be taken by the patient in the normal way 
through the mouth, water is supplied by the injection of a saline 
solution up the rectum ? " 

Norway received the news with some surprise. It seemed hardly 
an engineering matter. 

"I'm sure you're right," he remarked politely, "but I'll have to 
take your word for that." 

"Very well, then," said the surgeon. "Why does anyone die of 
thirst in a lifeboat?" 

This was a devastating question, and Norway could think of no 
appropriate answer. In any case, even if his visitor was correct, it 
seemed an unusual procedure to suggest to merchant seamen! 

Discussion in the department led to a certain amount of ribaldry, 
but it did seem worth investigating, and eventually a programme of 
research was carried out not in a naval establishment, but, strange 
to relate, at Johannesburg University. 

Twelve medical students, who volunteered to act as guinea-pigs, 
were taken to a particularly arid part of the Transvaal. There six 
were supplied with sea water by this unusual method, while the 
other six were given no water at all. At the end of the given time the 
students who had had the sea water were, admittedly, in a worse 
condition than their companions but not very much worse. From 
this it appeared that if the sea had about half its natural content of 
salt the human body might well adapt itself to the system of refresh- 
ment proposed by the naval surgeon. The Wheezers and Dodgers, 
however, had to deal with realities, and, reflecting that the ocean 
was not likely to discard its salt in the foreseeable future, Goodf ellow 
and Ritchie went on with their own more prosaic researches. 


AVOUCH, as befitted a naval research organization, D.MYW.D.'s 
chief preoccupation lay with the war at sea, several interesting 
projects unconnected with naval warfare were now being 
developed by Goodeve's team. Among these was an apparatus 
known in the department as "Hajile." 

For security purposes every project launched by the Wheezers and 
Dodgers was given a code name. A complete cover plan was also 
drawn up, and where several different firms were providing parts for 
a weapon or device each would be given a plausible but entirely dif- 
ferent idea as to the real function of the object they were manufac- 

Ironically enough, the only occasion when this procedure was 
jeopardized followed a visit to Goodeve by a representative of the 
Naval Intelligence Department. Announcing his identity, he asked 
to see the MOST SECRET list of projects, and jotted down the 
names of all the contractors then carrying out work for D.M.W.D. 

Three days later Goodeve was surprised to receive a 'phone call 
from him. 

"I'm speaking from Ipswich," he boomed. "I say, you know the 
job this firm here are supposed to be doing? Well, they don't know 
anything about it. I've asked them for particulars, and it may sur- 
prise you to know that they're doing no work at all on the thing you 
mentioned to me." 

Goodeve was so startled that he almost dropped the receiver. "Of 
course they don't," he shouted; "you, of all people, ought to have 
realized that." 

The whole security of that particular project had been compro- 
mised by a member of the very Admiralty department responsible for 
preventing leakages of secret information, and the existing cover plan 
had to be scrapped there and then. 

Happily, blunders like this were rare, and D.M.WD.'s own 
security precautions worked well. Some of the code names they chose 
for their more unorthodox ventures must have puzzled the Intelli- 


gence experts (who had to vet them) as much as any enemy agent, 
and Hajile was a case in point. 

The project originated with a request from the Army, who wanted 
to find a way of dropping heavy objects vehicles, guns, and stores 
from the air, and they stressed that a high speed of fall was essen- 
tial; lessening the danger of drift, it allowed the load to be dropped 
more accurately, and it also cut down the risk of damage from 
ground fire. 

Realizing that any contrivance depending on parachutes would 
be unsuitable for this purpose, D.M.W.D. tackled the problem from 
another angle, searching for a method of slowing up the falling load 
at the last minute, and eventually they hit on the idea of using the 
blast of a nest of rockets to cushion the impact of the loaded plat- 
form on the ground. The object to be dropped was fitted into a sort 
of harness, girdled by a huge 'candelabra' of rockets, and the plan 
envisaged this falling free through the air until it was a few feet off 
the ground. At this moment all the rockets would fire at once, 
decelerating the speed of the platform so powerfully that, in theory 
at least, it would touch down quite gently. 

To the observers of its trials it was a highly spectacular affair. In 
the last crucial seconds of its flight to earth the whole apparatus was 
enshrouded in a pillar of smoke and flame, and Jock Davies, with the 
sailor's traditional store of Biblical quotations at his fingertips, in- 
stantly suggested its code name from the Second Book of Kings. 

"Look at it!" he remarked as he watched one of the earliest 
trials "It's Elijah in reverse." 

Guggenheim did the early mathematical calculations, and the task 
of developing Hajile was given to Duncan Bruce and "Paul" Rober- 
son, a young research chemist who joined the department in Septem- 
ber 1942. Others assisting in the trials of the apparatus included 
Rivers-Bowerman, an Irishman who helped to overcome many of 
the snags which cropped up with the switch-gear and the crash pans 
on which the loads were dropped, and Louis Klemantaski, renowned 
in the motor-racing world before the war as a high-speed photo- 
grapher. Both were characters. Rivers-Bowerman had the typical 
Irishman's dislike of being hurried. He liked time to think things out, 
and whenever he felt anybody was trying to rush him over some 
problem he would pick up a newspaper, or any document lying to 
hand, and begin reading it slowly and ostentatiously, as if to say, 
" I'll do the job for you ... but only in my own time." 

Klemantaski had joined the department by the same route as 
Menhinick. He began the war in the Army, as an instructor in the 
R.A.O.G., but when the desert fighting had been in progress for some 
time he found himself detached to work at a factory in the Midlands 


producing filters for Army vehicles. The Army had found that 
engines were rapidly disintegrating in North Africa through sand 
wear, and photographic study of oil and air deposits was urgently 
needed. To carry this out they sought the services of a well-known 
photographer of fish and flies, but this specialist was occupied else- 
where, and the job fell to Klemantaski. He was much relieved when 
a summons from the Admiralty freed him for more eventful pursuits. 

The first aim of Bruce and Roberson was to devise a means of 
setting off the rockets of Hajile at the right height above the ground. 
The obvious answer seemed to be some form of plummet which 
would dangle below the apparatus and fire the rockets as soon as it 
hit the earth. The problem was not as simple as this, however, for 
any type of plummet used would have to be heavy enough to run 
out ahead of the falling load, competing with a fierce upward wind, 
and yet be sensitive enough to react immediately it landed on any 
yielding surface like grass, shrubs, or heather. 

To experiment with this unusual type of switch-gear they had to 
find a place where they could rig up wires and slide the plummet 
down them. Bruce thought of the lift shaft at Hampstead Tube 
Station, but this proved to be 30 feet short of the depth they needed 
to achieve the required velocity. Some one then suggested the great 
hangar at Cardington, and there Roberson spent most of November 
1942 ckmbering precariously about on the catwalk high in the roof, 
and sliding plummets of different shapes, weights, and sizes down 
a long wire. A naval stoker had been detailed to assist him, but he 
proved unable to face heights, and after Roberson had had to rescue 
him from his first climbing attempt, when the stoker became para- 
lysed with fright half-way up an 8o-foot fire-escape, it seemed less 
trouble to carry on with the experiments unaided. In time Roberson 
got quite used to crawling about on the narrow girders, but he was 
glad when the trials ended. Perpetually shrouded in a dense, clammy 
fog, Cardington was a depressing place, and the only really contented 
mortal there that chill November was the resident observer, who 
used to ascend to 2000 feet every morning in a balloon, and spend 
the day sitting happily with a book in the autumn sunshine. 

The initial tests completed, the Wheezers and Dodgers aimed for 
a higher velocity which meant a greater vertical drop. Bruce took 
the plummet and its accessories to an airfield on Salisbury Plain 
where a fellow-scientist was busily engaged in dropping blood-plasma 
bottles from a captive balloon on to the concrete apron of the run- 
way. The height there was all right for the plummet tests, as Bruce 
found with a sickening certainty when he went up in the swaying 
basket, but there was no variety in the surface of the ground below 
to give the fuse a proper test. It would have worked deceptively well 


on the hard concrete. So they loaded all the gear into a truck and 
drove to Birnbeck. 

When Hajile had been adapted to fire over water they began full- 
scale trials, dropping the contraption, loaded with a large block of 
concrete, into the sea from a Lancaster bomber. On his early runs 
the pilot deposited it too far from the end of the pier for Klemantaski 
to film the descent, so he was asked to aim as dose to Birnbeck as 
possible. This request proved ill-advised, for the pilot was now on his 
mettle. Taking off again, he made a couple of dummy runs, and 
then released the huge concrete block and its girdle of rockets from 
2000 feet with alarming accuracy. 

As it came screaming through the air the watchers on the pier 
gazed open-mouthed. Then, suddenly realizing that it was going to 
score a direct hit, every one started running for dear life down the 
long plank roadway. The concrete 'bomb' landed squarely on the 
roof of D.M.WJX's engineering shop. It sheared through a massive 
sted joist, and then demolished the covered way leading to the 
steamer jetty. Happily there were no casualties, though the Wren 
cooks preparing lunch a few feet from the wrecked shdter thought 
the end of the world had come. 

After that the bomb-aimer was requested to temper accuracy with 
discretion, and the trials proceeded uneventfully. At first, with four 
rockets fitted round the concrete slab, the load hit the sea fairly 
heavily. They tried with eight rockets, and Hajile fulfilled all expec- 
tations. Hurtling towards the water, the slab was checked just above 
the waves, and then it slid gently below the surface. 

These tests over the sea showed that there was nothing wrong with 
the general theory, but the gear now had to be adapted for land 
trials. By March 1943 the Hajile team had perfected the switch unit, 
and they offered to demonstrate this to Richardson from a tree in 
Hyde Park. For security purposes they took the gear to an endosed 
Ack-Ack site, and the Prime Minister's youngest daughter, serving 
there as an A.T.S. officer, was greatly surprised to find Robereon, in 
his naval uniform, wrestling with a tangled mass of wire in the top- 
most branches of a tall dm. 

When the plummet passed its test successfully D.M.W.D. had to 
find some practical task for Hajile to cany out. They knew from 
experience that the speed of getting any device into service depended 
not a little on rousing the interest of people in high places. A success- 
ful practical demonstration of what Hajile could do would hasten its 
progress, and Duncan Bruce recalled a remark made to him by Sir 
Denistoun Burney in the early stages of the Hajile experiments. 
Burney, inventor of the minesweeping paravane, had been concerned 
with the project from the start, and often attended D.M.W.D. 


progress meetings on Hajile, for he was interested in developing a 
special type of rocket. He had the grand manner of the elder states- 
man, and after one meeting he awed Bruce by observing, "Young 
man . . . you'll never get anywhere without Cabinet support" some- 
what depressing advice for a junior R.N.V.R. officer who had never 
even set eyes on a Cabinet Minister ! 

As a start it seemed a good idea to drop a jeep from an aircraft, 
but jeeps were hard to procure especially by people who wanted 
to throw them out of aeroplanes at 2000 feet and Roberson had 
little success until he called on the American Navy in Grosvenor 

To a Commander on the supply staff he explained rather ner- 
vously why he wanted two jeeps, but he had hardly finished speaking 
when his new-found ally grabbed the telephone. "Say, Jake," he said 
urgently, "come on up. There's a guy here who wants two jeeps 
and, boy, he's going to beat the living daylights out of them !" 

So Roberson got his jeeps, and dropping trials began in earnest. 
The first of these was a singularly unsuccessful affair, held on a bit- 
terly cold winter's day. First the aircraft refused to start. Then snow 
fell heavily, damping the rocket fuses, and when, finally, they dropped 
the jeep the Hajile equipment failed to function at all. Falling at 40 
feet per second on the small pilot parachute alone, Jeep Number One 
went straight into the ground with a shattering crash. A fortnight 
later they tried again, adding a lot more rockets. This time the jeep 
survived the drop relatively undamaged, but when the smoke cleared 
away they found the vehicle was upside down. 

They designed a special crash-pan to take the initial shock of the 
impact, and altered the setting of the rockets, but still the load 
continued to somersault on landing. Hajile, in fact, was in a 
thoroughly obstinate mood, and the thrust of the rockets varied in 
such an unpredictable way that the Wheezere and Dodgers never 
knew what to expect. Only one rocket had to fail for the whole 
decelerating apparatus to be thrown out of gear, and sometimes 
when the plummet struck the ground the whole cargo on the crash- 
pan would be hurled violently skyward, falling back with a tremen- 
dous, eardnshaking crump which tore all the fittings apart. Close to 
the ground the gear was surrounded by so much smoke and flame 
that it was difficult to ascertain precisely what happened at the 
moment of firing. 

After one sequence of fairly successful drops a demonstration was 
staged for representatives of all three Services on Newbury Downs, 
using large blocks of concrete again, for by this time jeeps were 
becoming a rather expensive item. It was a lovely still summer day, 
but the rockets were on their very worat behaviour. When Hajile 


was launched from the aircraft some of the rockets failed to fire at 
all, and others which did set alight to the pilot parachutes. The con- 
crete block consequently hit the ground with terrific force, and 
buried itself as Bruce succincdy remarked afterwards "right up 
to the maker's name." 

Much discouraged, the Hajile team realized that they would have 
to start almost from the beginning again, carrying out exhaustive 
tests with both the plummet and the rockets. For this purpose aircraft 
drops were not altogether satisfactory; when Hajile was released 
from a great height it was impossible to tell exactly where it would 
land, and the observers could not therefore get close enough to detect 
the precise sequence of events when things went wrong. Roberson 
still thought that the continued capsizing of the cargo might be due 
to the dnft of Hajile in the wind, but another of the Wheezers and 
Dodgers, who had got near enough on one occasion to peer through 
the smoke, swore that he saw the crash-pan turn on end appreciably 
after it touched down. 

Richardson decided to transfer the trials to Shoeburyness, and try 
suspending the whole apparatus from a giant crane. Roberson was 
therefore ordered to ring up "the Superintendent, Chatham Dock- 
yard," and arrange for the necessary facilities. 

Litde versed in the organization of the Navy's shore establish- 
ments, he followed his instructions to the letter, and when he got 
through to Chatham he demanded to speak to the Superintendent 
of the Dockyard in person. After some delay a voice asked what he 
wanted, and Roberson began issuing a stream of orders about the 
crane, the storing of the gear, and the assistance he would need. 

"I'm not in the habit of dealing with minor matters of this kind," 
came an irate response. "Do you know who you are talking to, 
young man?" 

"No," said Roberaon, " I haven't the faintest idea." 

"This is Admiral here." 

"Oh, is it?" said Roberson, much alarmed. "Do you know who 
this is at this end?" 

"No, I don't," boomed the voice. 

"Thank God for that ! " remarked Roberson, quickly replacing the 

The D.M.W.D. team had not been long at Shoeburyness when 
they solved the capsizing mystery. With Hajile suspended from the 
crane they could now get much closer to it with safety, and Rivers- 
Bowerman thought of an ingenious way of dispelling the rocket 
smoke so that every detail of the touchdown could be plainly seen. 
From some undisclosed source he obtained an old Skua aircraft, and 
this was placed end-on on to the crane. Whenever Hajile was to be 


dropped the Skua's engine was started up, and the slipstream blew 
the smoke sideways, enabling Klemantaski to film the landing in slow 

They then discovered that as the girdle of rockets fired the colossal 
jet of cordite which beat down on the ground was digging a cup- 
shaped pit in the soil. This, acting as a reflector, focused a fierce jet 
of air on to the underside of the crash-pan as it came to rest, and 
overturned it. 

To counter this further research was needed, and by the time all 
Hajile's teething troubles had been cured there was no chance to test 
the apparatus in action. It was, in fact, D-Day when the last mem- 
orable incident in its long development story occurred and Hajile 
itself could not be blamed for what happened on that occasion. 

Robeison, Rivers-Bowerman, and Klemantaski were all at Shoe- 
buryness that historic morning, and before trials began they stood 
beneath the crane, discussing the news which had filtered through 
about the invasion. Hajile lay on the ground alongside them, the 
framework of iron girders which normally held the concrete block 
resting on a raised platform of railway sleepers. 

Not realizing that the switches were closed, an electrician making 
some routine test of his own connected up the firing circuit. To his 
astonishment, all the rockets fired at once, and the great mass of 
ironwork rose straight into the air. 

Rivers-Bowerman was felled by a blow on the jaw, and Robertson, 
who was actually standing in the middle of the circle of rockets, had 
a miraculous escape, for he was completely engulfed in flames as 
the contraption took off. 

Forty feet above the ground Hajile lurched sideways. It crashed 
back to earth almost on top of Klemantaski, who was staggering 
about, blinded by a blast of sand which had caught him full in the 
face. He did not recover his sight for several days. 

To the Wheezers and Dodgers Hajile involved a seemingly endless 
programme of research which brought more than the normal share of 
frustrations and disappointments. But its importance amply justified 
the effort expended on it. Roberson condemned to spend the whole 
of his naval career on this one laborious task, occasionally gave vent 
to uncomplimentary opinions about deceleration in all its forms. But 
when the war was over it was a thesis on Hajile and its problems 
which gained for him a prized degree. 



So numerous and varied were the projects launched from the 
office in Lower Regent Street that changes in D.M.W.D.'s staff 
proved constantly necessary. But the department never became 
unwieldy. Goodeve had no intention of allowing it to get bogged 
down by weight of numbers. He wanted the Wheezers and Dodgers 
to preserve a constant sense of initiative. 

He chose his officers with great care. And he instilled in them all 
the tradition of never accepting defeat . * . never accepting without 
question the opinion of recognized authorities on any matter. 
Although junior in status the officers chosen for D.M.W.D. were 
often men of great experience and technical ability, and they found 
themselves bearing responsibilities out of all proportion to their 
actual rank. From Jock Davies and Goodeve they got all the backing 
they wanted, however, and the Wheezers and Dodgers were a happy 

Goodeve himself had one curious trait. Even in the most critical 
times he rarely came into the office much before noon. Then he 
would slip gradually into gear, working with ever-increasing intensity 
until midnight or later. During the daytime at least 50 per cent, of 
his energy was spent in getting to know people, in making and 
refreshing contacts. His best brainwork was done at night. 

People who did not know his methods, and saw him roaming 
round other Admiralty departments, chatting to friends and greeting 
new acquaintances with easy informality, got the impression that the 
task of Miscellaneous Weapon Development must be something of a 
sinecure. Here was one man at least with plenty of spare time on his 
hands. In point of fact this penchant of Goodeve's paid him and his 
department hands down. At any stage in D.M.W.D.'s negotiations 
or operations he always knew where to find an ally who could assist 

Norway and Richardson were outstanding deputies. Richardson, 
the scientist, had much of Goodeve's restless energy, though with less 
physical reserves to sustain it. He was very patient, very efficient 

" M 


and he fought obstruction like a tiger. People liked working for him. 
and they liked working for Nevil Norway too. 

Norway, the engineer, had a very practical approach to any prob- 
lem, derived from an essentially practical training. He told his young 
officers what he wanted, and then left them to get on with it in their 
own way. "Go away and do it," he would remark at the end of a 
briefing; "come back when it's done, or when you want some help" 
and they knew they had a free hand. 

He had an active, independent mind, and a mordant wit which 
could quickly deflate pomposity. Putting on his bridge coat one day, 
he accidentally cuff ed on the ear another lieutenant-commander 
standing next to him. 

"Awfully sorry, old boy," said Norway. 

"That's not the way to address me," came the petulant rejoinder. 
"I might remind you, Norway, that in civil life I'm the equivalent 
of a rear-admiral. . . ." 

"With the accent on rear, obviously," said Norway dryly! 

A good deal of Norway's time and energy in this second phase of 
D.M.W.D.'s activities was absorbed by glider targets and more 
intricate types of model aircraft. Admiral Dreyer, the Inspector of 
Merchant Navy Gunnery, had become concerned about training 
difficulties, for the Merchant Navy men sent ashore to undergo 
courses on the range had no proper aircraft targets to fire at. It was 
never easy to get hold of aircraft to tow a sleeve for them, and in 
any case a sleeve target was a poor substitute for an attacking 

On Dreyer's staff was a certain Lieutenant Stanley Bell, R.N.V.R., 
who in peace-time had run a small airline between Glasgow and 
Paris. He suggested to the Admiral that model gliders might be 
developed to fly over the range, and by an odd coincidence the 
requirement eventually came to Norway, who had known Bell before 
the war. It was Norway who had supplied the aircraft for his 

Norway roughed out a design for a target 'plane and took it to 
a firm at Wimbledon who made toys. With their help D.M.W.D. 
produced an aeroplane with a 6-foot wing-span which could be 
winched up into the air to a height of 200 feet, and could then circle 
the range in free flight for a minute and a half. A technique was 
evolved of firing at it with Sten guns, fitted with a Lewis gun ring- 
sight. As the velocity of Sten ammunition was about a third of that 
of the Lewis, and the model flew at about a third of the full-scale 
speed, the same lay-off could be obtained as in the case of a real 
aircraft under fire from a Lewis gun. 

The gliders themselves worked well, but the operators had to dash 


about on the range, laying out the towing lines and altering the 
launching points as the wind veered. This inevitably interrupted the 
firing practice, so Norway turned his attention to developing a 
rocket-propelled aircraft which would be capable of flying for longer 
periods without close attention. 

Target aircraft became a major industry in D.M.W.D., and teams 
had to be found to operate them. Norway said bluntly that it was 
absurd to put men on to the job of flying model aeroplanes at a 
critical stage in the war, when manpower was already a serious 
problem. So he decided to select a Wren to help with the develop- 
ment trials. 

She had to be intelligent enough to master a new technique 
quickly, and she had to be neat with her fingers, for there was a good 
deal of repair work to be done on the fabric of the 'planes. 

When these points were explained to the W.R.N.S. organization 
they produced Frances Randall, a young South Londoner who had 
been working as a hat-trimmer in a big West End store. In appear- 
ance she was a very ordinary-looking working girl, but she seemed 
intelligent and anxious to learn, and Norway placed her in the 
charge of Alec Menhinick, who was still convalescing after his ordeal 
in the Patia. A little later more Wrens were drafted to the outside 
staff of D.M.W.D., for ten ranges had to be equipped and operated 
as soon as the first batch of gliders was ready. The obvious person to 
train the newcomers was Wren Randall, who, although she had not 
been long in the Navy, had quickly developed quite an air of assur- 
ance. In due course her promotion to Leading Wren was approved. 

Difficulties began to crop up on the ranges. The officers in charge 
knew nothing about the working of the glider targets, and the Wren 
operators, being new to the Service, were unable to assert themselves 
or to present the case for the device. Clearly it was necessary that 
some one should travel round the ranges and get the system properly 
under way. Menhinick did this for a time, but then Norway read 
the Riot Act and said that D.M.W.D. could not spare a trained 
R.N.V.R. officer for a job of this kind. 

Again the only logical candidate was Leading Wren Randall, and 
since she would have to travel all over Britain, visiting ranges and 
negotiating with officers, she had to be regraded in rank. So Frances 
Randall, who had developed into a very pretty girl with an impres- 
sive sense of authority, became a Petty Officer Wren. 

By the time the rocket-propelled target aircraft emerged it was 
obvious that ranges in many parts of the world would soon adopt 
D.M.W.D.'s ingenious models as part of their standard equipment 
The Admiralty planned to introduce them in Egypt and Canada, 
and some one had to supervise their initial operation. 


Again Norway put his foot down. " I can't possibly spare an officer 
from the engineering section to go abroad and work this toy. There's 
nothing for it ... Wren Randall will have to take it on." 

So Wren Randall became Third Officer Randall, and set off for 
Egypt. She handled the job remarkably well; returned to D.M.W.D. 
for a short time; and went out to Canada. There she met a 
lieutenant-commander in the Canadian Navy, and married him. 
None of the Wheezeis and Dodgers would have been really sur- 
prised if Wren Randall had finished the war as a member of the 

D.M.W.D.'s most important venture in the toy-aeroplane field 
was the "Swallow," which Norway developed from the rocket- 
propelled target 'plane after the costly failure of the Dieppe Raid. 
In any beach assault the task of laying a smokescreen at a height of 
only 200 feet over a heavily defended area was sheer murder for the 
unfortunate pilots. So the Wheezers and Dodgers were asked if they 
could build a pilotless aircraft which could take off from the deck of 
a ship and lay a smoke curtain over invasion beaches by automatic 

Armed with this proposal, Norway went off to see his friends the 
toy manufacturers, and many conferences were held at the Royal 
Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. Finally the Swallow was 

It was a brilliantly ingenious affair, propelled by fifteen slow- 
burning rockets and controlled by a 'mechanical mouse' a clock- 
work machine, mounted in the tail plane, which did several different 
jobs in rotation. It fired the Swallow's own motor rockets once the 
'plane had been catapulted into the air. It altered the ailerons, 
allowing the aircraft to bank or to fly level, and when the Swallow 
swooped over the invasion area the dockwork mouse switched on 
the smoke, laying a dense curtain for more than a quarter of a 

To launch the Swallow from the deck of a landing-craft a catapult 
had to be used, and an experimental track was laid down at H.M.S. 
Kestrel, the Fleet Air Arm station at Worthy Down. 

Some of the problems of a high-speed catapult have already been 
described. To get the Swallow airborne at Worthy Down the trolley 
on which it was mounted had to reach a speed of i oo miles an hour 
in a distance of only 40 feet. 

To bring it to a halt the Wheezers and Dodgers mounted on the 
front of the trolley a large metal cylinder filled with water. At the 
end of the track was a ram. When the trolley struck this, the ram 
pierced a copper disc on the face of the cylinder, and then drove 
against the cushion of water inside. It was, in fact, rather like the 


apparatus tested so spectacularly at Brean Down; the stress involved 
was not so great, but even so the trolley took a lot of stopping, for 
when loaded with the Swallow aircraft and the twenty rockets 
which drove it down the track it weighed more than 16 hundred- 

The mam danger seemed to be that the rough track, or any 
unevenness in the firing of the rockets, might swing the trolley side- 
ways, and the tapered ram might fail to enter the cylinder. The only 
serious trouble, however, came from quite a different source. When 
the Swallow landed after its first trial flight its wings were found to 
be riddled with minute holes. The ram had plunged into the cylinder 
with such violence that a cloud of water droplets had been expelled 
like machine-gun bullets. To protect the Swallow .the Wheezers and 
Dodgers built a steel shield, like the roof of a tunnel, over the top part 
of the ram, the idea being that the trolley itself would pass under this, 
and the aircraft, mounted above, would be safe from the water 
'bullets' as it took off. Even so they underestimated the force of the 
spray. On the first run with the tunnel roof clamped in position it 
blew the big metal shield, weighing fully one hundredweight, sky- 
high, shearing off the eight bolts which held it as if they were made 
of putty. It was not, however, until the trials were transferred to the 
Beaulieu river that Norway's team ran into real difficulties. 

There the catapult was mounted on an obsolete landing-craft, and 
it was planned to fire the Swallovv down the long entrance reach 
of the river, so that it would crash on the marshes near Needs Oar 

First of all they had to discover the exact speed of the trolley at 
the point of the Swallow's take-off, and Hatfield was called in. He 
arrived with his immensely complicated timing apparatus, a galva- 
nometer, and masses of wire, and when his magic box had been 
installed the Wheezers and Dodgers carried out a long series of 
'dummy runs,' using 75o-pound concrete blocks as a substitute for 
the aircraft. Any uninitiated spectator might well have wondered 
what strange purpose the timing trials fulfilled, for the trolley, its 
rockets blazing, would hurtle down the track . . . there would be a 
terrific crash as it hit the buffer with a force of more than 80 tons 
behind it, and the big concrete blocks would pitch forward into the 

Day after day this went on and day after day the strangest cal- 
culations emerged from Hatfield's electrical timing gear. First it 
insisted that the trolley was travelling at not more than 40 m.p.h. 
Then it went to the other extreme, announcing a speed of several 
hundred miles an hour, which seemed equally improbable. Many 
tons of concrete had been hurled into the Beaulieu river before 


a suspicion dawned on Biddell that quite an elementary fault was 
to blame for the erratic readings. Telling the others to watch the 
pointer on the indicator dial, he walked to the end of the runway 
and stamped his foot on the deck. Sure enough, the timing mechan- 
ism recorded a positively startling performance by the trolley, which 
had not moved at all! So Hatfield reluctantly took his apparatus to 
pieces once again, and this time the wiring fault was soon remedied. 

In war the scientist is for ever working against the clock, and when 
the early flights of the Swallow from the landing-craft brought failure 
after failure the team of naval officers working on the Hampshire 
river sensed they were losing their race with time. 

Whenever they launched the robot 'plane it would fly satisfactorily 
for a certain distance. Then some gremlin would start tinkering with 
the automatic controls, and the Swallow would plunge to earth. It 
took dozens of trials, and the exposure of thousands of feet of cine 
film, before they found out what was happening. The immense 
acceleration of the catapult was upsetting one tiny fitting inside the 
clockwork mouse. 

As soon as this was corrected the Swallow climbed, turned, and 
banked beautifully, but this final success came too near to D-Day for 
the aircraft to go into mass production. It never, therefore, met its 
baptism of fire. The research carried out by D.M.W.D. and the 
Royal Aircraft Establishment was destined, however, to yield impor- 
tant dividends, for data collected during the Swallow trials helped 
to produce some of Britain's earliest guided missiles. 

That development, however, belonged to the future. For the 
Wheezers and Dodgers the last word on the Swallow was written 
one day in 1945. Miss Slade, a mathematician who was one of the 
three civilians on D.M.W.D.'s executive staff, was finishing off a 
report on a floating incendiary device for the Admiralty records 
when her telephone rang. 

The call was from the firm which had built the Swallow. They 
were dunking, they said, that small copies of the aircraft might make 
popular toys. Would there be any Admiralty objection if a scale 
model was shown at a toy-trade exhibition? 

Miss Slade said she could see no objection from D.M.W.D.'s point 
of view, but it was really a matter for the Naval Intelligence Depart- 
ment. She mentioned a certain officer who, she thought, might be 
able to help them, and thought no more about it until the following 
day, when the lieutenant-commander in question rang up. 

"I understand that you have revealed my extension number to 
an outside person," he said. "This is a serious breach of security. 
Surely you know by now that here in N.I.D. we all work in the 


Miss Slade recalled the Ipswich incident. "I've always suspected 
so," she said crushingly, "but we've never actually had any official 
confirmation before !" 

For the most part the staff of D.M.W.D. were split up into teams 
to tackle well-defined and relatively short-term projects. Donald 
Currie, however, immersed himself in a field of experiments entirely 
his own, and at this particular period his movements were more 
mysterious than usual. 

To Jamieson, who from his desk in the corner of the big room in 
Lower Regent Street somehow contrived to keep track of every one's 
comings and goings, he would say, "If anyone wants me I shall be 
in the swimming-bath at Wembley." And off he would go, laden with 
model boats, paint-pots, and strips of coloured fabric. He spent much 
of his time these days in museums and the reading-rooms of public 
libraries, and after these visits obscure messages for him used to 
reach D.M.W.D. 

"Lieutenant Currie? No, Fm afraid he's not in yet," Jamieson 
would say to some puzzled officer taking a 'phone call at the other 
end of the room. 

"Know anything of his movements? There's a chap on the 'phone 
who wants to talk to him about coral formations in the Bay of 

"No, I don't. He said he was spending last night at Staines 
Reservoir " 

Donald Currie was, in fact, engrossed in yet another camouflage 
problem. Ever since the memorable interview between Goodeve and 
Commander Pouter D.M.W.D. had assumed responsibility for most 
of the naval research into ways and means of concealing ships and 
small craft, either at sea or in harbour. And this had become Cunie's 
special preserve. A bold experiment by Peter Scott, when First Lieu- 
tenant of H.M.S. Broke, had done much to upset preconceived 
notions about camouflage of ships at sea. 1 In the First World War 
efforts in this field had been concentrated mainly on schemes of 
dazzle painting in bold colours and designs; little attempt was made 
to merge a ship into its background. 

Drawing on experience gained when stalking birds with a duck- 
punt, Scott advanced a new theory. He noticed that on starlit or 
doudy moonlit nights a ship on the horizon appeared as a black 
lump jutting up from a darker sea against the lighter sky. 

* Lieutenant-Commander Peter Scott, C.B.E., D.S.G. and bar, R .N.V.R., was 
awarded the M.B.E. for his camouflage research, and the Admiralty presented 
y-nSn with a model of H.M.S. Broke, painted in the off-white shade he had 


To counteract this effect he carried out certain tests. These showed 
conclusively that in such conditions a ship could not be painted too 
white. By day, however, a white ship was unpleasantly conspicuous 
to searching aircraft., but further experiment produced a satisfactory 
compromise. It was found that pale greys, blues, and greens were 
much less obvious by day, and only slightly less effective at 

Scott therefore devised an off-white camouflage for the Broke, 
and this was such a spectacular success that she was rammed by a 
trawler while at anchor in the Foyle, the trawler's captain protesting 
afterwards that Broke was invisible ! On another occasion Broke and 
Verity collided 300 miles out in the Atlantic, the latter ship failing 
to sight Broke at all until the last moment. Eventually all warships 
in the North Atlantic and Home waters were painted to this speci- 
fication, after the colour scheme had been somewhat modified. 
Always to the fore in adopting new ideas, Captain Mountbatten 
became a keen supporter of the change, and he had the Fifth 
Destroyer Flotilla disguised in a curious shade of pale mauve which 
became known as "Mountbatten pink." This particular colour 
earned understandable popularity with harassed First Lieutenants, 
for it showed up dirt and rust a good deal less conspicuously than 
Scott's off-white camouflage. 

Cunie's own observations from the air were directed to the camou- 
flage of merchant ships, and they enabled D.M.W.D. to recommend 
a uniform colour scheme. Producing exactly the right texture of 
paint, however, called for patient research. Flying over the Atlantic 
at dawn and in the late evening, Currie noticed that the hulls of 
vessels covered with high-gloss paints showed up alarmingly in the 
rays of the rising or setting sun. Using an ingenious gloss-measuring 
instrument, D.M.W.D. therefore set to work to evolve 'safe* paints 
which would tone down to a matt surface within a few days of 
being applied. 

While these experiments were going on, intriguing reports came 
from the Canadian Navy, who had been experimenting on lines 
very similar to Scott's researches. They also had reached the conclu- 
sion that a ship painted sheer white would be extremely difficult to 
detect at night, and Goodeve was keenly interested. It seemed to 
follow from this that a vessel might be actually illuminated in such 
a way as to make her invisible. The Wheezers and Dodgers therefore 
staged an elaborate trial, mounting lamps on outriggers and con- 
trolling their power by a rheostat in an attempt to merge the ship 
with the horizon. This succeeded dramatically at short ranges, but 
they found that the expense of supplying and operating such equip- 
ment would be prohibitive. 


From camouflage of ships at sea D.M.W.D. turned to the conceal- 
ment of warships and merchant ships in port. Pilots of aircraft raid- 
ing Brest reported that the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were so 
cleverly hidden that even when they managed to pick out the vast 
mass of the upperworks it was difficult to tell which way the 
battleships were lying. The Germans had painted the bows and 
sterns of the two ships the same colour as the ground, and they had 
used vast quantities of netting. Our own chief need was to protect 
valuable merchantmen unloading in the docks, so Currie went off 
to Newport, in Monmouthshire, where a steamship called the M ar- 
warrin was lying. Using nets and outriggers to break up the line of 
the hull, he produced an effective enough camouflage, but it had one 
fatal drawback. Ships like the Marwarrin had to get to sea again 
quickly ; they were seldom in dock long enough to justify all the effort 
of swathing them in a vast cocoon of nets and booms. Once in place, 
too, it would obviously slow down the work of unloading to a dan- 
gerous extent. 

The Wheezers and Dodgers provided a camouflage scheme for 
naval air stations and at Worthy Down Currie operated on some 
Scorpions 1 so successfully with paint and special netting that obser- 
vers flying over the field were unable to find any of the dozen 
vehicles parked round the perimeter. He went to Lerwick, in the 
Shetlands, and rigged up a cunning contraption of dummy lighters 
and oil-drums to hide the submarines lying alongside the jetty there; 
he devised special coloured dothing for Commandos carrying out 
limpet attacks on shipping in enemy harbours; and he produced 
ingenious nets for the M.T.B.'s which crossed the North Sea to hide 
up in the fjords of Norway. These nets were large enough to drape 
right over the boats. On one side they suggested a typical back- 
ground of rocks and vegetation; when reversed, they gave an impres- 
sion of a similar surface after a heavy fall of snow. 

For an artist like Donald Currie, who for years had studied the 
sea and the sky, the effects of light and shade, and contrasts in 
colouring, the creation of a camouflage scheme presented no impon- 
derable problems once he had seen the setting for himself. But now 
the Admiralty asked for something infinitely more difficult. They 
showed him the plans of a secret craft designed for raiding purposes. 
It could carry a small crew, two canoes, and a load of explosive, and 
when its occupants paddled ashore for reconnaissance or sabotage 
work the parent craft sank to the sea-bed. Several days later an auto- 
'matic timing device came into operation, and the submerged boat 
rose to the surface under cover of darkness, ready to receive the 
raiding party when they paddled back. 

1 Vehicles armed with machine-guns and used for airfield defence. 


These submersible craft, which could vanish without trace and 
return just as unobtrusively without human aid, were called 
"Mobile Floating Units." 

"We can't tell you exactly where they're going to operate, but you 
can take it that it will be in waters controlled by the Jap. The main 
danger for the raiding party will come from air reconnaissance, for 
the sea in that area is very clear. We've somehow got to reduce the 
chances of these M.F.U.'s being spotted while they're lying on the 
bottom during the day-time." 

That was atU Currie was told. 

He set to work systematically to learn all he could about a wide 
variety of tropical sea-beds in all weather and water conditions. In 
theory this seemed simple enough; many encyclopedias and other 
reference books purported to give this information. As so often 
happens, however, Currie found that the experts were not always in 
accord. Some had special knowledge of the highly coloured coral for- 
mations encountered in tropical waters, and stressed this aspect. 
Others emphasized the prominent characteristics of different kinds 
of tropical weed, and to reconcile all their conflicting impressions 
meant days of tramping from museum to museum, from one 
authority to another. 

The Hydrographer's Department supplied facts about the tur- 
bidity of water. The staff of the Natural History Museum told him 
all they knew about various types of sea-bed. He talked to experts on 
seaweed, mineralogy, and sea-bottom deposits. And from the head 
geologist of a famous oil company he learnt about the geological 
formation of the coast in the operational area. 

At the end of it all he knew a great deal about the appearance of 
coral sand and quartz sand, tropical weeds like Laminaria, and all 
kinds of rocks. He was also aware that the camouflage problem was 
even more difficult than he had imagined, for the M.F.U.'s might 
equally well come to rest against a background of dark, grey-green 
mud, light yellow sand, or glaring white coral. 

Somehow he had to produce a scheme basically suitable for any 
of these conditions, and he began experimenting with small-scale 
models. As a start he mapped out the whole surface of the deck in 
irregular light and dark patches. He then took his small boats to the 
Vale Farm Swimming Baths at Wembley. 

The water there was crystal-clear as dear, in fact, as any sea 
water in the world. Off the Tonga Islands a 1 5-inch Sechi disc can 
be seen at 200 feet. Vale Farm might well have been in the Tonga 
Islands, and, musing on this incongruity as he towed his models up 
and down the baths, Currie only came out of his reverie when he 
saw the astonished look on the face of the Cockney swimming-bath 


attendant, who obviously thought his visitors were too old to be play- 
ing with toy boats. 

With the help of a team of lighting experts from the research staff 
of the General Electric Company, whose laboratories were not far 
from the baths, a very successful colour plan was evolved for the 
topsides of the M.F.U. The decks were given a sandy background, 
and disruptions of light and dark shading broke up the slab-like 
appearance of the craft. 

They then turned their attentions to the canoes, for it was equally 
vital that the approach of the raiding parties should not be seen by 
watchers ashore. Here full-scale tests were possible, and Currie and 
the G.E.C. team began spending their nights afloat on the cold 
waters of the reservoir at Staines, paddling slowly to and fro in their 
flimsy craft while chilled observers peered through the darkness. At 
dawn they would all gather in one of the pump-houses to compare 
notes, and Currie invariably produced a large bag of Spanish onions 
which, he claimed, would fortify and invigorate his exhausted com- 

Privately, GJE.C.'s research team considered that almost any 
hazard of war was preferable to a ration of raw onions at six o'clock 
in the morning, but since their resistance was lowered by lack of 
sleep and they liked Currie too much to hurt his feelings they suffered 
in silence! 

Only one essay in camouflage developed into a combined opera- 
tion involving a whole team of the Wheezers and Dodgers, and, 
oddly enough, Donald Currie busy with other work at the time 
took relatively little part in it. 

Strictly speaking, the story of the attempt to obliterate the Thames 
belongs to the earlier phase of D.M.W.D.'s activities, but water 
camouflage had more far-reaching aims than the defence of the 
metropolis. The London Blitz was over by the spring of 1941, but 
there were other targets. It became vitally necessary to protect the 
great factories in the Midlands. Lakes, reservoirs, and canals all 
helped the air navigator to pinpoint industrial centres, and it was not 
until the advent of radar that such visual aids lost their signifi- 

At full moon, rivers and lakes can be seen from afar. R.A.F. crews 
bombing Kiel spoke of sighting the Elbe fifty miles away, and Currie, 
making an aerial reconnaissance himself on a night when haze had 
already cut down visibility, picked out the Mersey quite easily at a 
distance of thirty-five miles. It was the heavy raids on Meraeyside 
which first focused attention on the need for water camouflage, for 
the Geimari bombers attacking the docks at Liverpool were observed 


to check their final approach by a line of five reservoirs leading from 
the Trent Valley. 

Admittedly, other objects such as wide roads, woodlands, and the 
dark ribbons of railway track showed up just as prominently in bright 
moonlight, but in certain quarters it was strongly urged that the task 
of the bomber crews would be made a great deal more difficult if 
some way could be found to mask the surface of water. 

When the proposal first came to Goodeve, Professor Rideal 1 had 
already conducted some interesting experiments at Cambridge, 
where he had camouflaged a stream with coal-dust. Goodeve fore- 
saw greater difficulty in applying such a method to any tidal water- 
way, and for stretches of static water other types of camouflage were, 
of course, available. Nets, supported by cork floats, could be spread 
over the water, and if properly moored they would not be so vulner- 
able to the wind. Within certain limits, however, the coal-dust experi- 
ments had certainly proved promising, and D.M.W.D. could not 
reject the idea without giving it a fair trial. 

A team, soon to be known as the Kentucky Minstrels, was there- 
fore formed under the leadership of Duncan Bruce to study the 
whole project, and work began on the Thames in a craft inappropri- 
ately named H.M.S. Persil. 

From the start there was keen competition, for rivals were in the 
field. On Ruislip Reservoir a party from a research station which 
specialized in such experiments were already testing an apparatus 
rather like a Hoover (except that it worked in reverse). Towed behind 
a launch, this discharged large quantities of oiled coal-dust just be- 
neath the surface; but the system was not proving very satisfactory, 
for the dust was first injected into a stream of air inside the appara- 
tus, and when it finally met the water- it tended to clog instead of 
spreading out freely. If, on the other hand, they sprayed the dust 
from a point just above the surface it blew away. 

Bruce tackled the problem from a slightly different angle. After 
discussions with Dr Lessing, a well-known fuel consultant, he first fed 
the dust into a high-pressure water-jet, and then expelled the mixture 
through an ordinary fire-fighting appliance. In this way he could 
lay his inky screen ahead of the boat, and the method of discharge 
was faster and cleaner though cleanliness was only a comparative 
term for any part of the Kentucky Minstrels' activities ! 

The trials began in quite a modest way, but soon the Ministry of 
Home Security began to take a close interest. So did the special 
committee set up by the Prime Minister to co-ordinate efforts in the 

*Now Sir Eric Rideal, M.B.E., F.R.S., Professor of Physical Chemistry at 
King's College, University of London, since 1950, and Chairman of the Minis- 
try of Supply's Advisory Council on Scientific Research of Technical Develop- 
ment since 1953. 


Battle of the Atlantic. Any measures which promised to protect 
merchant ships during their time in port received high priority, and 
so more helpers a petty officer and a party of ratings were drafted 
to speed the experiments on the Thames. The competing sprayers were 
installed in four large launches, which plied up and down the river 
at night, smothering its murky waters in a thick mantle of coal-dust 
or soot, and more than once Mr Churchill himself came out on to 
Westminster Bridge to inspect the results. 

The experiments became extremely unpopular with Thames-side 
housewives, who wrote to their M.P.'s complaining that their 
laundry was being mined. There were contretemps afloat, too, and 
when, as the result of a slight technical hitch, a passing tug was 
deluged in a hail of oily black particles Bruce was given some 
extremely lurid, if rather impracticable, advice by her crew ! 

Nobody, however, suffered more than the Wheezers and Dodgers 
themselves. The coal-dust settled on them in clouds, ruining their 
uniforms and covering them with a sooty grime which soap and 
water took long to dispel. After a while they scarcely noticed one 
another's appearance, and Coulson, returning to the office one morn- 
ing after a whole night on the river, was quite surprised when he was 
stopped in Piccadilly by an immaculate young Commander R.N., 
who regarded him with extreme distaste. 

"All you R.N.V.R.'s are the same," he said scathingly "Look 

at you . . . absolutely filthy ... a disgrace to the Service! And you 
didn't even salute me. Why not? " 

As it happened, Coulson was accompanied by Richardson, who 
had been promoted to Commander two days earlier, but had not had 
time to acquire his 'brass hat,' so he said somewhat smugly, "As this 
officer with me holds the same rank as yourself I did not think it was 
necessary." A trifle disconcerted, his interrogator abandoned all fur- 
ther examination of Coulson's shortcomings. 

As the trials on the Thames progressed it became evident that the 
effort involved in blacking out large stretches of tidal water would 
far outweigh any possible tactical advantage. 

To cover one acre demanded at least a hundredweight of speci- 
ally prepared coal-dust, and as fast as they supplemented the initial 
discharge a strong tide would wash the dust away. If a wind was 
blowing the whole film piled up against the lee shore, and choppy 
water swamped and sank the drifting particles. 

In the greater shelter of the Surrey Commercial Docks results were 
more encouraging, but the Wheezers and Dodgers had their greatest 
success at Coventry. H.M.S. Perstt, which, after the early experi- 
ments on the Thames, had been used mainly for retrieving the dead 
cats and dogs which floated odorously round the dock area, was 


transported north for these trials, and, with no tide to hamper their 
experiments, Bruce and his team camouflaged Coventry Canal so 
effectively that both an old gentleman and a dog walked into it, 
under the impression that it was a newly made-up road ! 

By that time, however, it was realized that any success by the 
Kentucky Minstrels could have relatively little effect on the Luft- 
waffe. The enemy had switched to moonless nights for their mass 
raiding, and with the swift development of radar the most ardent 
advocates of water camouflage abandoned their faith in this expen- 
sive and somewhat unreliable form of protection. 

Goodeve always spoke of his acquiescence in the strange experi- 
ments on the Thames as "one of my gross errors." But when the 
trials began no one could have foreseen with any certainty the speed 
and direction of the march of science. 



THE start of the war's fourth year brought a dramatic change 
in Allied fortunes. Alamein turned the tide in North Africa, 
and Operation Torch launched a new drive eastward along 
the Mediterranean. By January 1943 the German Army was in full 
retreat on the Don. Churchill and Roosevelt could now look far 
beyond the conquest of Europe's "soft underbelly"; when they met 
at Casablanca the possibility of invading Northern France as early 
as the coming August was discussed at length. 

Invasion plans burdened the Royal Navy with heavy responsibili- 
ties, and from this time onward all D.M.W.D.*s own efforts were 
directed to problems of amphibious assault. Weird projects began 
to take shape: floating roadways and airfields, harbours created by 
streams of bubbles, and rocket-propelled monsters to blast a way 
through coast defences. There were explosive amphibians, invisible 
boats, and cliff-scaling devices. 

In the preliminary stages many of these raised abstruse questions 
of higher mathematics, and new faces began to appear in the depart- 
ment. Goodeve had a free hand to enlist the aid of distinguished con- 
sultants in any field, and men like Professor G. I. Taylor and the 
youthful Dr William Penney were called in to advise on the creation 
of artificial harbours. 1 Guggenheim, the author of a standard work 
on thermo-dynamics, at last had opponents in argument worthy of 
his steel, and he would lure Penney into lively discussion on the sub- 
ject, while his naval friends listened in awed and uncomprehending 

Another notable civilian recruit was George Kreisd, whose mathe- 
matical calculations were far above the heads of most members of 
D.M.W.D. Given a problem, he would retaliate with pages and 
pages of hieroglyphics which reduced even Richardson to stunned 

1 Professor Taylor was knighted in 1944; Sir William Penney was Assistant 
Professor of Mathematics at Imperial College throughout the war, and has been 
Director of the United Kingdom Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at 
Aldennaston since 1953. He was knighted in 1952. 


perplexity. And once, when in desperation Richardson asked an 
eminent professor of mathematics to interpret an explanation of 
Kreisel's, the learned man confessed with some diffidence that it was 
altogether too advanced for him I 

Kreisel was certainly a colourful addition to the department. He 
had his own decided views on the appropriate rig for Service occa- 
sions, and would turn up at official trials attired in an old pair of 
grey flannels and a sky-blue shirt, widely opened at the neck. This 
gave him the carefree appearance of a holiday hiker who had some- 
how strayed into the decorous gatherings of uniformed officers by 
sheer accident. But George Kreisel himself remained entirely oblivi- 
ous to the critical stares of the admirals and generals, all of whom 
seemed to him uncomfortably overdressed. 

On the naval side of D.M.W.D. there were several officers now 
firmly established on the staff who have not, nevertheless, been men- 
tioned so far. Ron Eades, a tall, good-looking R.N.V.R. lieutenant 
with a brisk, energetic manner, was a close friend of Boswell. Both 
hailed from Portsmouth, and for years they had sailed and played 
rugger together. Eades was completely fearless, and his indifference 
to explosives roused no little apprehension at Birnbeck, where he 
experimented with a lethal device called "Bookrest." This was a 
canvas tube filled with plastic explosive and designed to blow up 
enemy minefields. Plastic explosive was a highly temperamental sub- 
stance, and quite liable to react to the slightest rough handling, but 
Eades treated it with a cavalier disdain. Whenever he wanted to 
empty it out of its hosepipe container he resorted to the simple 
expedient of banging the pipe against the wall of the magazine 
which housed all Birnbeck's cordite, flares, rockets, and detona- 

The leader of D.M.W.D.'s research into artificial-harbour prob- 
lems was Robert Lochner, a sturdy, bespectacled man with any 
amount of drive, who had joined the department after commanding 
an M.L. flotilla in Coastal Forces. He was an electrical engineer 
when war broke out, but, being also an ardent yachtsman, he natur- 
ally gravitated into the R.N.V.R. His first appointment was to one 
of the Q ships, with which the Admiralty hoped to emulate the 
success of Rear-Admiral Gordon Campbell, V.C., in the First World 
War, but in the end little came of this venture, and while he was 
kicking his beds at Plymouth he put up an idea for countering the 
magnetic mine. 1 

1 This idea was successfully used in the protection of large numbers of war- 
ships and merchant ships against magnetic mines in the early days of the war, 
and subsequently a substantial award was granted to Loohner by the Royal 
Commission on Awards to Inventors. 




A Rocket Landing Craft in action. 

Imperial War Museum i 




Imperial War Museum 


This brought a posting to H.M.S. Vernon, and there he met 
Goodeve for the first time. When he moved on to Coastal Forces he 
must have surprised some of his brother-officers by his spare-time 
preoccupation. He had decided to read for the Bar, and returning 
from pafrols off the Dutch coast he would often prop himself up in 
an angle of the upper deck and study Roman law ! 

Robert Lochner's sea time came to an abrupt end in 1941, when 
a picture appeared in a London magazine. This showed him on the 
bridge of his M.L., coming back from some operation and all too 
clearly he was wearing spectacles. The Admiralty promptly inquired 
how it was that a commanding officer of an M.L. and senior officer 
of the First Flotilla came to be suffering, apparently, from defective 
eyesight, and even the considerate test which the local admiral 
applied "Look out of that window, Lochner, and tell me the 
colour of that large advertisement for Gold Flake Cigarettes!" 
failed to secure a reprieve for long. Goodeve brought him into 
D.M.W.D., and after a time Lochner took charge of several of the 
department's engineering projects. 

Another member of the Engineering Section was Williamson, the 
doyen of the Wheezers and Dodgers. One of the most accomplished 
engineers on the staff, he entered into the rigours of trials work with 
such zest that it was difficult to think of him as a veteran. This, how- 
ever, he undeniably was. He had joined D.M.W.D. on his fiftieth 
birthday; in the 1914 war he had served both as an Engineer Officer 
in the Navy and as a Flight-Commander in the Air Force. He had 
learnt to fly in the very early- days his mentor was a Flight-Lieuten- 
ant named Alcock, who later made the first crossing of the Atlantic 
and Williamson also took part in a memorable airship attack on 
the Goeben and the Breslau with 1 1 2-pounder bombs. 

In all, more than fifty officers were employed on research and 
development now, among them Laurie, who had spent the decade 
before the war in Antarctic research and held the coveted Polar 
Medal; Brookfield, a schoolmaster in civil life, who was Norway's 
chief assistant in the office; Abel, an interplanetary enthusiast who 
had set his heart on a journey to Mars; and young Urwin, who had 
come to D.M.W.D. in 1942 after a singularly eventful naval appren- 
ticeship as a rating. He fractured his spine when H.M.S. Jersey was 
mined off Malta; he was also serving in the cruiser Aurora when she 
was mined; and finally he was a survivor from the Breconshire when 
that ship sank after a mass dive-bombing attack. He seemed, how- 
ever, little the worse for this lively sojourn in the Mediterranean, and 
in the coming days he was to play a useful part both in developing 
rocket landing-craft and in helping Lochner with his artificial- 
harbour problems. 



The wide net which Goodeve cast over the embryo sub-lieutenants 
undergoing training at H.M.S. King Alfred even enmeshed the 
author of this story, who, after a year of undistinguished service as a 
rating on board an armed yacht, was as surprised as Menhinick to 
find himself suddenly deposited in the midst of an erudite band of 
scientists. On first arrival in the Admiralty he felt somewhat self- 
conscious of his status as a Temporary Sub-Lieutenant among so 
much straight gold lace, but Goodeve quickly dispelled any anxiety 
on this score. 

"From now onwards you can act on the assumption that one 
wavy ring is equal to two straight ones," he said reassuringly. "Be- 
fore I came to this job I was once sent for by Admiral Wake-Walker, 
and asked to carry out an unusual mission. When I suggested that the 
task was rather irregular he said, 'Of course it is, otherwise I would 
have done it myself. You, as an R.N.V.R. officer, needn't know it's 
irregular. Go and do it !' So you see you've got quite an advantage 
over many R.N. officers a lot senior to you." 

Much of the success of the Wheezers and Dodgers was made pos- 
sible by the wholehearted co-operation of the Admiralty's Commis- 
sion and Warrant Branch. Once they knew the type of recruit Good- 
eve needed to strengthen the department they went to work as 
enthusiastically as any old-time press-gang. Officers with special 
scientific or engineering training were sought out and spirited from 
ships and shore establishments with uncanny speed, and in some 
cases civilians found themselves screened for security and converted 
into naval officers in as little as forty-eight hours. 

In addition to the C.W. Branch, assistance in the same encourag- 
ing way came from the Director of Scientific Research and the 
Director of Naval Accounts, who saw to it that the new department 
was given all the financial support it required. There was, in fact, a 
refreshing absence of red tape in all the Wheezers and Dodgers' deal- 
ings with recruiting and accountancy problems, and the fact that no 
exact complement was ever laid down for D.M.W.D. left Goodeve 
free to engage all the necessary experts he needed as new and widely 
different tasks presented themselves. 

This freedom was never abused. Goodeve had no intention of 
allowing the department to become overstaffed and unwieldy. From 
every one who wished to remain a member of the Wheezers and 
Dodgers he demanded unflagging enterprise and energy. There was 
no question of resting on one's laurels. 

Two women members of D.M.W.D. call for mention. Miss Ottley, 
a tall, auburn-haired girl, had been with the team from the start. Al- 
though officially she was appointed as Goodeve's secretary, she soon 
became the uncomplaining amanuensis of the entire department, 


typing out their reports, taking messages, and even doing urgent run- 
ning repairs to damaged uniforms. Any trade union would have been 
surprised at the long hours she chose to work, but at least life in the 
office in Lower Regent Street was never boring. Even on the rare 
occasions when comparative peace descended on the department there 
was always a chance that Guggenheim, who had a strange passion 
for rearranging the furniture, would start moving all the chairs and 
tables about, or Lane or Richardson would blow up part of the 

Another stalwart member of the staff was Miss Slade. The eccen- 
tricities of the Wheezers and Dodgers intrigued her more than most 
people, for in addition to being an able mathematician she was^a 
qualified psychologist. As assistant to Alec Coulson she took part in 
many of the outside trials, and she caused something of a stir when- 
ever she appeared on board His Majesty's ships. No one ever ex- 
pected sea trials to be conducted by a woman, and, even ashore, 
naval establishments seemed uncertain of the procedure for victual- 
ling, accommodating, and entertaining a female civilian scientist of 
officer status but no known rank. At the same time an undefined 
status carried certain advantages in a Service environment, and Miss 
Slade, who waged a constant and energetic war on red tape, had no 
scruples over ringing up senior officers and taking them to task with 
a freedom which Alec Coulson, her own superior officer but a mere 
two-and-a-half -striper, never in spite of Goodeve's dictum dared 
to emulate. 

As a department D.M.W.D. was very much the reflection of 
Goodeve's forceful personality. He inspired immediate confidence 
and initiative in the most junior recruit, and since Jock Davies had 
skilfully steered clear of all attempts to limit the Wheezers and 
Dodgers' field of activities their influence was felt in every sphere of 
the naval war. 

In the Admiralty, however, it was realized by the autumn of 1942 
that the many problems set by the naval planning staff would only 
be solved in the time available if all the Royal Navy's scientific 
resources were properly co-ordinated. 

Working under the aegis of the Admiralty were a number of 
research organizations in addition to D.M.W.D. the staff of the 
laboratories at Teddington, an anti-submarine warfare unit, and 
other specialized teams attached to the Director of Naval Construc- 
tion, the Engineer-in-Chief of the Navy, and the Medical Director- 

One new and outstandingly successful organization often des- 
cribed since as the finest research unit the Admiralty has ever had 
was the radar department of the Signals Division, with which 


Wright had a great deal to do. The achievements of the Admiralty 
Signals Establishment are outside the scope of this story, but the 
speed and efficiency of their work was quite remarkable. Thanks to 
them, the Navy was given new eyes to see with. 

The research section of the Mine Design Department had also 
done outstanding work, but in spite of the importance of all these 
varied units, strangely enough, scientific research had no representa- 
tive on the Board of Admiralty. The Board included men answerable 
for planning and personnel, supplies and transport, the provision of 
weapons and the running of naval dockyards, the building and repair 
of merchant ships, and the swiftly expanding Fleet Air Arm almost 
every aspect of naval life, in fact, with the exception of scientific 

It was therefore decided to create a new civilian post, giving the 
holder effective control of the whole research and development pro- 
gramme for the Royal Navy. And to this key position Charles Good- 
eve was appointed on the first day of October 1942. 

He heard the news with mixed feelings. It meant the end of his 
career as a naval officer, for to give him the authority he would need 
in his new appointment the Board ruled that he would have to sur- 
render his naval rank. After so many years that was a sharp wrench. 

It was obvious, too, that this sudden promotion in the Admiralty 
hierarchy from Commander R.N.V.R. to the equivalent of a Rear- 
Admiral might make his position difficult. Henceforward he would 
be senior to all the Directors of Departments with whom he had 
dealt as a subordinate, and a good deal of tact would be necessary 
if he was to secure ungrudging co-operation. 

Last, but not least, the move would sever his close ties with the 
Wheezers and Dodgers. It was some consolation to know that in the 
new job he could at least hold a watching brief for them; he could 
ensure that they had freedom to carry on their work on the same lines 
under Richardson, who would take over the scientific control of the 

No sooner had Goodeve become Assistant Controller, Research 
and Development, and handed over to his deputy, than Jock Davies 
also departed. He had completed his term at the Admiralty and was 
anxious to get to sea again. In March 1943 he was given command 
of one of the new escort carriers, and in his place came Captain 
F. W. H. Jeans, an officer of considerable technical experience and 
ability, who had been serving on the British Admiralty Mission in 

Jock Davies had contributed more to the success of the depart- 
ment than most people realized at the time. Some officers in his 
position would have regarded D.M.W.D. as a backwater on the list 


of Captains' appointments. They would have considered it anomalous 
to be asked to take charge of a minor shore department staffed almost 
exclusively by junior R.N.V.R. officers, and they would not have 
understood the temperament and outlook of Goodeve, with his 
impatience which occasionally rode roughshod over convention and 
accepted Service practice. 

With his keen natural interest in technical matters Davies saw his 
appointment to D.M.WJX in a different light. He was attracted 
and stimulated by Goodeve's dynamic approach to problems which 
others, more set in their ways, rejected as insoluble. He liked the 
spirit of the young department, the zest and drive with which every 
new project was tackled. 

His task was to forge the essential link between D.M.W.D. and 
other bodies in the Admiralty who were still a little suspicious of 
scientists in uniform. 

As a senior R.N. officer Jock Davies not only understood the 
Admiralty organization better than any of his R.N.V.R. subordi- 
nates, but he could interpret the likely attitudes of heads of other 
departments to most proposals which the Wheezers and Dodgers 
wanted to put forward. At the same time he held a firm balance 
between the far-reaching enthusiasms of his band of scientists and 
the sternly practical requirements of the naval war machine, which 
had to weigh many factors not always evident to the specialist pre- 
occupied in a limited field. His success was reflected in the growing 
prestige of D.M.W.D. after the initial teething troubles had been 
overcome, and the loss of both Davies and Goodeve on the brink of 
great events was keenly felt. 

Towards the end of the year came one further change. The 
Wheezers and Dodgers had been growing more and more cramped 
in their quarters in Lower Regent Street, and, as the Fleet Air Arm, 
who shared the building, were in even greater need of living room, 
the department moved once again to Fanum House, the home of 
the Automobile Association in Leicester Square. There they took 
over the whole of the first floor, near neighbours being the Admi- 
ralty's own Directorate of Scientific Research, the staff of Trade 
Division, and the Salvage Department. 

Next door was the Green Room Club, where the leading actors of 
the West End stage forgathered. The premises of the Green Room 
had previously housed the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society, and, 
as the door between the dub and the offices of the Wheezers and 
Dodgers was for some obscure reason kept permanently unlocked, 
the naval officers never knew whether civilians they encountered in 
the corridor were eminent scientists, actors in search of refreshment, 
or burglars on ticket of leave ! 


Goodcve continued to take a close interest in D.M.W.D/s pro- 
gress, particularly as many of the projects now under way had been 
initiated long before he began his new duties. It was, in fact, a 'phone 
call from Sir Edward Appleton to Goodeve as far back as February 
1942 which led him to a bombed-out wing of the Grosvenor Hotel 
and his first strange meeting with Ronald Marsden Hamilton. 



ONE morning early in February 1942 Sir Edward Appleton 
rang up Goodeve. "I wonder if you could find time to see 
a man named Hamilton," he said. "He's an extraordinary 
fellow ... an inventor . . . and he's got a laboratory fitted up in a 
bombed wing of the Grosvenor Hotel. He's working on some ideas 
which I think might interest you." 

At that precise moment Goodeve was not keen to see anyone. He 
was leaving later in the week for three months in America, and there 
was the usual mass of paper-work to clear up, last-minute confer- 
ences to attend, and decisions to make before he set out on his 
journey. He knew Appleton well enough, however, to realize that 
any suggestion from that source was worth following up straight 
away. After lunch that day he collected Purcell on his way through 
the outer office, and they took a taxi to Victoria. 

The main part of the Grosvenor Hotel is flanked by Buckingham 
Palace Road, but when they asked for Hamilton at the reception desk 
they were shown upstairs and into a wing which ran out at right 
angles to the main building, over part of the station roof. To all 
intents and purposes this wing was now derelict. Enemy bombing of 
the rail terminal had made it almost uninhabitable, and as they 
pushed through the door into the long passage way they noticed the 
plaster peeling from the walls. Over everything hung the musty 
odour of disuse, and their footsteps echoed loudly on the bare boards 
of the corridor. From one of the suites of rooms leading off the pas- 
sage a man emerged and came forward to greet them. Shortish in 
height, with a good-looking, sensitive face, he appeared to be in his 
middle forties. He carried his right arm stiffly, and Goodeve noticed 
that he had a withered hand. 

"I'm so glad you were able to come," he said, as he led the way 
down the corridor; "I'd like you to see some of my models. I've had 
to build my own experimental tank. Not a very neat job, I'm afraid, 
but it was a lot cheaper than getting people to build one for me. No 
money to spend on frills here." 


He laughed a little harshly. Glancing at him again, Goodeve saw 
the tired lines round his eyes, and suddenly he sensed that Hamilton 
was under some considerable stress. 

They came to the home-made water-tank and Goodeve mar- 
velled at the ingenuity of the man who had created it. It was fully 
200 feet long, and it was fashioned out of nothing more complicated 
than a vast expanse of linoleum and a double row of old bricks. 
Overhead ran electric cables, and these supplied power to a number 
of strange model craft floating on the surface of the water. The whole 
thing could not have cost more than a few pounds, and Goodeve 
thought ruefully of the astronomical sums of money spent on more 
elaborate experimental tanks fulfilling a similar function. 

Now Hamilton was speaking again, and the tiredness had gone 
out of his voice. He was talking quickly and earnestly, with almost 
boyish enthusiasm. 

"I have discovered something which may revolutionize warfare. 
If certain laws are obeyed the surface of a fluid can be made to 
behave in many ways like that of a solid. You can lay a sheet of 
canvas on water and roll a wheeled object over it in just the same 
way as you could if the canvas was laid on the ground. Look at these 
pictures " 

Goodeve stared, fascinated, at the photographs Hamilton handed 
to him. On a carpet of thin chestnut fencing stakes, supported only 
by a tarpaulin, a boy was riding a motor-cycle across a stream. 

"My son Peter helped me with these experiments. Even carrying 
a passenger he could cross the water at high and low speeds quite 
comfortably. At the moment of starting from the bank the machine 
raised a wave in front, but after a few feet the motor-cycle accelerated 
out of the crest of this wave. After that it was riding virtually on the 
level. Now, you see what this means, don't you?" 

He turned back to the tank. 

"This theory of mine I call it Rolling Dynamic Buoyancy can 
solve one of your greatest problems in an amphibious assault. My 
floating bridge gives you the link between the ships and the shore. 
Perhaps you'd like to examine this model " 

Goodeve leant over the tank. There, floating on the water, was a 
miniature roadway made of strips of wood and canvas and anchored 
by wires fore and aft. Hamilton began to run a model truck across 
it, and the hinged sides of the bridge turned up to form a narrow 
lane which extended threequarters of the lorry's length ahead and 
astern. As the lorry passed over each section the sides of the bridge 
dropped back again to their original recumbent position. Inspecting 
it more closely, Goodeve realized the brilliant quality in Hamilton's 
design. A given load was spread through tension fore and aft. All the 


stresses and strains had been so deverly and accurately worked out 
that not an ounce of material anywhere failed to bear its appointed 
part of the burden. 

Hamilton dived back into his workroom and produced a sheaf of 

"You will see here that there is no problem over transporting the 
bridge. It rolls up like a length of wire-netting, and it will unroll just 
as easily in the water; the sea will take all the weight." 

"What loads have you got in mind, and how far can this bridge of 
yours be extended?" asked Goodeve. 

"It should easily carry a 10-ton truck a mile to the shore. As I see 
it, we can make the bridge in looo-foot sections of Douglas fir planks. 
To support them we shall need flexible steel cables with a breaking 
strain of at least 19 tons." 

"How are you going to apply the tension on your cables?" 

"I think we may have to experiment a little further in that direc- 
tion," said Hamilton. "To keep the tension constant during a rise 
or fall of the tide I don't see why we shouldn't use a simple hanging 
weight. If variation in the tide is not important an ordinary winch 
would probably do." 

Goodeve glanced again at the model floating in the tank. 

"What happens if a lorry breaks down on the bridge?" he asked. 

"That shouldn't cause any real trouble," said Hamilton. "You 
saw the hinged sides rise up out of the water when the track was 
pressed down. They formed a sort of shallow boat round the truck 
which travelled along with it. If the truck stops in a choppy sea the 
depression will gradually fill with water, of course, but it will be 
several hours before that part of the bridge becomes waterlogged. 
There will be plenty of time to tow away any vehicle that has broken 
down. Normally, of course, the bridge is self-emptying. As soon as 
the load moves away all the sea-water flows out again over the flat 

There were more questions from Goodeve and Purcdl, and then, 
as they were turning to go, Hamilton made a gesture towards the 

"I don't suppose you would be interested in the other things I'm 
working on here, but my Train Ship could bring the war in Europe 
to an end if they would give me the money to develop it. I call it 
Horatio. The idea came to me when I was doing the preliminary 
work on the Bridge." 

He moved to the far end of the tank and pointed to a long object 
in water. It was the strangest ship Goodeve had ever seen. Enclosed 
in an endless belt was a train of twelve electric locomotives, and 
when Hamilton switched on the power they began to move rapidly 


along a track mounted on the inside of the belt, picking it up and 
carrying it forward over the roof of the train as the craft gathered 

"I have used an entirely new method of propulsion. This craft you 
see is driven by skin friction. The scale model corresponds to a full- 
sized Train Ship 370 feet long and weighing 3000 tons. . . ." 

Hamilton paused, staring at Goodeve intently as if in search of 

"It mil be able to travel at tremendous speeds over land or water. 
You will see from these drawings that the carriages are connected by 
large universal joints. Between each section are hydraulic jacks 
which can be locked when the train reaches a certain speed in the 
water. They will hold the whole train rigid, in the form of a girder. 
Then it will ride the waves like a sledge racing over rough ice." 

"What will happen if you run into a gale? In certain conditions 
surely the length and height of the waves will impose undue strain 
on your girder. You will then get a dangerous sagging effect, won't 
you?" Goodeve asked. 

"Not at all," said Hamilton abruptly. "Releasing the jacks will 
give complete articulation; the Train Ship will then ride the waves 
like a piece of seaweed. When the main swell is large and steady I 
can adjust the shape of the train, to allow for the combined harmonic 
motions of the train itself and the swell, simply by releasing or 
locking the jacks. They also steer the Train Ship; you will only have 
to extend them slightly to one side or the other for the train to turn 
in a circle." 

A silence fell on the long corridor, broken incongruously by the 
dull rumble of a very different type of train as it entered the station 
below them, and Gkxxleve looked again at the strange, futuristic 
object in the tank. Reflecting on the engineering skill which had gone 
into the creation of the Floating Bridge, it occurred to him that 
Hamilton's weird amphibians might not be so impracticable after 
all. One day they too might be entering a London terminal. 

"You talked about winning the war with this invention of yours," 
he said. "What is in your mind?" 

Hamilton smiled a little wryly. 

"You probably think this is all very far-fetched," he said, "but 
theoretically it is possible to produce a vehicle, working on this prin- 
ciple, which will travel over water at a speed limited only by the 
strength of the materials used in its construction a vehicle which 
can move not only over firm land and sea, but over ice, snow, or 
marshes. From this country, and from as far away as America and 
the Commonwealth, a fleet of these high-speed amphibious trains 
could converge on the very heart of Germany. Some could act as 


mobile battering rams, flattening by kinetic energy a path across 
occupied Europe for other trains to follow. You could have destroyer 
trains, remote-controlled and carrying enough high explosive to lay 
waste to whole cities . . . and other trains for carrying troops and 
supplies far behind the enemy lines." 

Then, as if the thought of engineering so great a devastation 
oppressed him, he began to talk of a world at peace. 

"One of these craft could do the journey from the centre of 
London to New York in forty-eight hours. Aero engines driving 
dynamos will give me all the power I need, and fuel costs will be 
far lower than for the conventional liner. This discovery is even 
more important when applied to cargo-ships and tankers, where the 
bulk of the resistance comes from the water and not from the air. It 
marks the greatest advance in propulsion since steam succeeded sail." 

Hamilton reached into the tank again and turned the Train Ship 
on its side. "Of course, this model demonstrates only the broad prin- 
ciple. Several features have not been incorporated here. For instance, 
I have designed an automatic pumping system to keep the ship buoy- 
ant when the waves are breaking over her. And I can increase the 
freeboard and control the vertical motion of the track by pumping 
fuel to and fro, from one tank to another." 

Goodeve and Purcell saw other things in the corridor that after- 
noon. Among them was a torpedo unlike any so far devised for sub- 
marine warfare. 

"Hercules here is another of my pet projects," said Hamilton. 
"He's a versatile chap. Works on the same principle as the Train 

Ship He'll do over a hundred miles an hour under water, and he 

can climb ashore and overcome any beach defences " 

Hamilton paused. "I'd better not start telling you about Hercules, 
though," he said. "I've kept you far too long already." 

Goodeve looked at his watch. Afternoon had merged into early 
evening. In the quiet of the corridor they had lost all sense of time, 
and he remembered that he still had much to do before midnight. 

Hamilton led the way down the damaged staircase, and as they 
hailed a taxi in the dark street Goodeve said to him, "Send me all 
your data on the Bridge. I think we can do something with that. I 
shall be out of the country for a short time, but Dr Purcell will see 
that it is examined." 

The cab circled to head round Grosvenor Place, and he leant for- 
ward to wave a farewell. But Hamilton had already disappeared, 
back to his strange experiments in the gloom of the deserted wing. 

The idea of the Bridge had first come to Ronald Hamilton fully 
a year before Goodeve's visit. Like so many other ideas of his in the 


past, it had given him no peace, nagging at his mind and torturing 
him with visions of yet another failure. 

All his life success had been a mirage, beckoning him on and on, 
and mocking him as he strained forward to grasp at reality. His 
pride rejected this constant failure, bitterly condemning the stupidity 
and lack of foresight of the influential men who came to look at his 
inventions from time to time, and who went away casting vague 
promises of future help as one might throw scraps to a starving 

His bitterness he strove to conceal under a doak of arrogance, but 
the pose was alien to his real nature. Ronald Hamilton was a sensi- 
tive man and easily hurt. He was a brilliant and original engineer, 
but he had had none of the lucky breaks which even the genius needs 
to fortify his belief in himself, and often in these days and nights in 
the empty wing of the hotel Charlotte, his wife, who knew and under- 
stood him better than anyone else, wondered how much longer he 
would stand the strain the strain of toiling to develop ideas far 
ahead of their time, and trying to interest people who seemed unable 
or unwilling to grasp their significance, while all the time the bills for 
bare necessities mounted f righteningly, and there seemed no hope of 
any change in the pattern of worry and insecurity which had been 
the background to their life together for nearly a quarter of a cen- 

He had been fifteen years old when the First World War began. 
A broken right arm, which had become crippled when he was still 
at Lancing, prevented him from playing games and sharing many 
of the activities of others of his own age; the small boy's dread 
of being different from his companions led him to draw further 

As he grew older he conquered his physical disability to a remark- 
able extent by sheer determination, but the self -consciousness he felt 
about his useless arm was never to leave him. 

He had a passion for the Navy. Unable to serve at sea, he left 
school early, and somehow he wangled his way into an Admiralty 
department dealing with ballistics. While still in his teens he dis- 
covered a formula for speeding range calculation; he also invented 
an ingenious device for correcting errors in gunnery elevation. 

The war over, he went up to Oxford, and met and married Char- 
lotte, a good-looking, clever girl who was reading Economics there. 
Ronald Hamilton was a brilliant mathematician, but even then his 
mind was beginning to focus more and more on invention. His first 
brain-child .was a self-changing gearbox for cars. Like so many of his 
later inventions, it was years ahead of its time; it worked perfectly, 
but, owing to lubrication problems and the fact that metallurgical 


knowledge was not sufficiently advanced, the Hamilton gearbox 
would not stand up to heavy wear. This was to be the first of many 

^ Oxford gave him an honours degree in Mathematics, and for a 
time in the early twenties he taught at a succession of public schools 
. . . Rugby, Durham, and Malvern. As a schoolmaster he was out of 
his element. He preferred to work on his own, and the pattern of 
school life, with its set hours, its somewhat mechanical demands on 
his brain, and its restrictions on his freedom, soon became intolerable 
to him. 

His instinctive flair was for inventing, but here he was hampered 
by the lack of a thorough engineering training. A highly original 
thinker, his mind would reach out with a leap into the unknown, 
searching and probing for an answer to some problem he had set 
himself. Then he would work back reluctantly to the fundamentals, 
often losing patience before he had tied up the many loose ends in 
his chain of calculation. Characteristically he scorned the more 
effective but less original procedure of accepting an objective and 
then working forward, step by step, from the known into the un- 

. He abandoned schoolmastering, and plunged into a new venture, 
under Sir Felix Brunner's sponsorship an automatic laundry at 
Greenwich. He invented a method of determining the price of 'bag 
wash' by volume instead of weight, and sold it for 300. Then he 
began to study the mathematics of racecourse betting, and designed 
a totalisator, working on logarithmic principles, which was installed 
at Huret Park. 

This gave him his first taste of commercial success, but, though the 
ideas continued to flow, income never kept pace with expenditure. 
Hamilton invented a pick-a-back aircraft ... an automatic telephone 
system for rural areas which saved 80 per cent of the wiring then 
used ... an electric razor . . . and a radio set which recorded the 
programmes as they were broadcast. In all his researches, however, 
he was handicapped by lack of capital. He lacked too the business 
sense which was needed if his ideas were to be exploited to his own 

As often as not he found himself unable to carry them to a success- 
ful conclusion through insufficient financial backing. Then he would 
be forced to drop them altogether, or sell his rights for a song to 
others, who reaped the benefit. 

It was a relief to Charlotte when he abandoned the precarious 
existence of a free-lance and joined the General Electric Company 
to work on design and development. At long last it seemed to her 
here was something stable; but the slump came in the early thirties, 


the department dosed down, and Ronald Hamilton was back where 
he had started. 

He was ill-equipped to face the heartbreak years which followed. 
To make ends meet he worked in a laundry again, despising the 
dreary monotony of the job, and despising himself too for his failure 
to find better employment for his talents. With all his capital gone 
he no longer had any outlet for the creative urge which was still 
strong within him, and he grew unhappy and disillusioned. 

His injured arm was a constant handicap, and, although Moyni- 
han had operated skilfully on the elbow joint, Hamilton knew he 
would be permanently crippled. He kept a boat at Burnham-on- 
Grouch, and there they used to spend every week-end they could in 
the summer months. Sailing her was often acutely difficult for him, 
but the physical challenge only made him all the more determined. 

The week-ends afloat acted as a safety-valve. His passionate love 
of the sea alone seemed to assuage his bitterness and still the sense 
of failure which oppressed him. And it was the sea which gave 
Ronald Hamilton a new lease of life. 

When war broke out it seemed useless to volunteer. No Service 
medical board would look twice at him, he reflected. But as a yachts- 
man he offered his services for Dunkirk, and then, miraculously, he 
found a way into the Patrol Service, a kindly naval surgeon turning 
a Nelsonian gaze on his crippled arm. 

He could handle boats and men, so he was given the rank of Petty 
Officer, and, blissfully happy to be of some use at last, he remained 
at sea until early 1941. Charlotte was away, teaching at a country 
school; his two boys were also at school, and, in the vacuum of war, 
life seemed, for the first time, strangely free from complications. 
He might well have been content to remain indefinitely on the 
Lower Deck if a scientist, pursuing some experiment at sea aboard 
his patrol vessel, had not started questioning him one day. Hamilton 
was then given a lecture on the sin of wasting his abilities, and the 
scientist passed his name to the Ministry of Aircraft Production. 
Before long they applied for his temporary attachment to a depart- 
ment of their own dealing with the vetting of inventions. 

Slowly at first, his own inventive brain became geared to the prob- 
lems of war. It was then that he began to experiment on the stream 
which flowed close by his cottage at Churt, exploring with growing 
excitement the principle of Rolling Dynamic Buoyancy. 

By May 1941 he felt sure he was on the brink of a major achieve- 
ment. He asked for official facilities to continue his researches, but 
M.A.P., who considered that the investigation of the surface tension 
of water was well outside their field of operations, declined the 
request. His reaction was characteristically impulsive. Without paus- 


ing to consider whether he was a free agent he informed the Ministry 
that he was leaving. The development of the Bridge was too impor- 
tant to the war effort to be delayed by routine demands on his time, 
and henceforward he intended to devote all his energies to it, he 
informed them. Before they had recovered from their surprise 
Hamilton had gone. 

He sent for Charlotte to join him in London, and for no particular 
reason they decided to stay at the Grosvenor. 

"How long will you want the room for?" asked the reception 
clerk as they booked in. 

"We haven't really thought about it/' said Hamilton. "We might 
stay indefinitely " 

A heavy air raid had just begun. The guns were thundering from 
the Park, and even the great, solid hotel building seemed to lift and 
rock as the bombs exploded near by. The clerk looked at them 
curiously. It seemed a strange moment to be contemplating an 
indefinite stay in the heart of the battered city. 

He showed them to a big double room on the second floor. The 
beds were pushed to one side, and they got hold of a couple of large 
deal tables. Then they shut themselves up and began working on the 

After two months an official from the Admiralty came to inspect 
Hamilton's plans for the Train Ship and the Bridge amid the dis- 
order of the bedroom. He was reserved and non-committal, and 
when he left Charlotte said, a little despairingly, "We shan't get any- 
where without larger models and better facilities for experiment and 

They then discovered that a whole wing over the railway booking 
office was out of action. They asked if they could take it over, and 
the management, who plainly thought they were mad, said they 
could live there rent-free. 

When their elder son, Peter, came back from Eton at the end of 
July, and joined them at the hotel, they moved into their new 
quarters. Early one morning, before any of the staff were awake, 
they carried the models down from the bedroom, across the hall, and 
up into the deserted wing. "To save a double journey they were all 
placed on a stretcher and covered over with a blanket," Charlotte 
recalled later. "We felt like conspirators removing a body!" 

Half-way down the wide corridor were two rooms which they 
decided to occupy themselves. Procuring a pile of old bricks and 
the linoleum, Hamilton built his experimental tank in the passage, 
and they settled down to attack the problems of Rolling Dynamic 
Buoyancy as a team Peter helping his father with the models, 
Charlotte doing the typing, making her erratic genius of a husband 


keep appointments, and generally acting as a safety-valve. Ronald 
Hamilton worked as if under an inspiration, grudging any moment 
spent away from his researches, and Charlotte literally had to drag 
him from his laboratory at meal-times. 

All through the summer holidays of 1941 Peter worked with him. 
After that he was given special leave from Eton to assist with the 
experiments. He was a brilliant mathematician, who had won a 
scholarship to Eton and was later to get a Double First at Cam- 
bridge. Through him the team expanded, for he sought the aid of 
his tutor, J. S. Herbert, a former Cambridge rowing blue, to solve 
some particularly intricate calculations connected with the Bridge, 
and thereafter Herbert became a frequent visitor to the Grosvenor 
Hotel. At the start the schoolmaster found Hamilton far from easy to 
get on with. The overbearing arrogance he could understand, and he 
could make allowances for it, but Hamilton's petulant impatience 
with the groundwork which had to be put in before his ideas took 
logical shape and form was a sore trial to those around him. Obsti- 
nate problems of higher mathematics would often infuriate him, 
and, like a spoilt child, he would vent his irritation on the very 
people who were trying hardest to solve his difficulties. At times a 
fleeting sense of humour banished the tension, but this could be 
deceptive; leg-pulling he invariably took with bad grace. 

When Herbert first arrived at the hotel Hamilton explained the 
main projects he was working on, and then, leading him to the tank, 
he unwound a roll of toilet paper. As it floated on the surface of the 
water he rolled tennis balls along it to demonstrate the possibilities 
of the Bridge. 

Herbert went back to Eton to work on the main theory. The 
problem of tensions in the side-skirting of the Bridge had to be closely 
studied, and an answer, too, had to be found to the lateral effect of 
the tide flowing against the floating roadway. 

Meanwhile others had joined the manage, Stanley Hunter, a 
pleasant, shortish, grey-haired man in his forties, was a brilliant 
designer and draughtsman who had worked with Hamilton on the 
Tote project years before. In character they were exact opposites, 
for Hunter was self-effacing to a degree a humble, very modest 
man who shrank from the limelight. He worked long houra without 
ever losing his mental quickness and accuracy under fatigue, and no 
problem of practical engineering ever seemed to defeat him. 

Ralph Jenkins, a friend of Hamilton's who was working at the Air 
Ministry, also helped with the making of the models, and Toby 
Belfield, a lecturer in engineering at Oxford, spent a great deal of 
his spare time devising and testing mathematical formulae. It was 
odd, in a way, that Hamilton should have been able to gather round 



















him such a devoted team, for he himself was the complete individu- 
alist, who found it difficult and irksome to work with others. Often 
he resented their criticism, but undeniably it acted as a stimulant. 
He badly needed, too, friends around him who could share the bur- 
den, for the months to come brought little tangible success, and 
optimism gave way to a sense of acute frustration. 

The first crisis developed when a branch of the Admiralty dis- 
covered that Petty Officer Hamilton was no longer serving at M.A.P. 
Pointing out that he had only been loaned from the Navy for special 
duties there, they directed him to return to the Patrol Service forth- 

Absorbed in his experiments, Hamilton had completely forgotten 
about the Patrol Service. The drafting order placed him in a quan- 
dary, for although he knew he could gain an immediate discharge 
from the Navy by revealing his disability, this would, he knew, have 
unpleasant repercussions for the kindly naval doctor who had passed 
him as fit, at his urgent request, at the time of Dunkirk. After frantic 
deliberation he set off for the Patrol Service base at Lowestoft. On 
the way he thought up an ingenious formula which eliminated any 
risk of trouble for anyone, and, to his vast relief, he found himself 
demobilized in a matter of hours. He was now completely free to 
work on his inventions, but almost immediately the financial situa- 
tion produced a further crisis. The bombing of London had ceased, 
and the Grosvenor Hotel began to fill up again. Soon a suggestion 
came from the management that they might have to reopen part of 
the damaged wing. 

Hamilton compromised by offering to pay a weekly rental of 10, 
but whenever their total bill dropped below 20 polite inquiries were 
made as to how soon they would be able to vacate their rooms. "As 
we have the two boys still at school, and no money coming in, there 
are moments of extreme financial tension," Charlotte wrote to a 
friend. The tension was not alleviated by Ronald Hamilton's own 
complete vagueness about money matters in general. 

He had a tiny income of his own not more than i 50. Charlotte 
had about the same. When things looked blackest there came a sud- 
den windfall. They inherited 1000 from a relation, but it went 
straight into the pool and was soon swallowed up. Between May and 
December they spent 976. Of this, hotel bills and the purchase of 
materials for their experiments accounted for all but 200. With no 
sponsors, and the bills for bare necessities mounting steadily, it was 
an anxious time. 

They were convinced that the inventions must succeed. So a small 
syndicate was formed to raise a few extra hundred pounds in cash. 
They sold nearly all their wedding presents, and then Charlotte, 


confined to a sick bed with jaundice, wrestled so successfully with 
Income Tax Repayment forms that they got back a further 200. 

This at last gave them breathing-space. 

Early in November a relation of Ronald Hamilton brought a 
famous figure in the transport world to the hotel to look at the 
models. He was very influential indeed, but, to Hamilton's distress, 
he seemed to understand little of what they tried to explain to him. 
He prodded the home-made tank somewhat suspiciously with his 
walking-stick, appeared annoyed that he had got it wet, and left 
without vouchsafing anything. The Hamiltons were in the depths of 

A well-known professor also called. He showed more sympathetic 
interest, but he was obviously engrossed in other matters, and, apart 
from sending them a formula which appeared to disprove the whole 
principle of Rolling Dynamic Buoyancy in toto, nothing more was 
heard of him. 

In December hopes were raised again. Hamilton gave his largest 
demonstration so far to a group of very senior officers from the War 
Office. In the middle of it, however, one of the inspecting party 
remarked omnisciently that although Hamilton's theories were 
most interesting there was nothing new in them. A certain Captain 
Walker, of the Royal Engineers, had conducted experiments on 
similar lines in India many years before. They had not led to any- 
thing, he recalled. After this reminiscence the War Office delegation 
looked less impressed, and by the time Hamilton had tracked the 
suggestion to its source and disproved it the Army had lost interest. 

He opened negotiations with a firm in the North of England who 
hinted that they might finance his projects; approaches were made 
to a boatbuilding company, the National Physical Laboratory, and 
Sir John Thorneycroft, who spoke to the Controller of the Navy 
about Hamilton's researches. When nothing came of this Thorney- 
crof t did offer some practical help, suggesting that Hamilton might 
like to transfer his experiments to a small factory which he controlled. 

Hamilton gratefully declined, preferring the peace and temporary 
security of the corridor. In spite of his anxieties he was intellectually 
at his best during this period. Working on the models, on which so 
much depended, he was, of course, greatly handicapped. He resented 
the constant need for some one to hold the electric locomotives, or 
the pieces of the Bridge, while he operated on them; but he had 
overcome his disablement so fully that once, when Charlotte was 
asked how her husband had injured his hand, she had to think quite 
hard before she realized what her questioner was talking about. 
Nevertheless Hamilton suffered a good deal throughout the model- 
making phase. He insisted on doing all the intricate conversion work 


on the standard toy trains himself, and one evening, struggling vainly 
with a minute coupling, he cried out in exasperation, "Oh, God, 
how I wish I had two hands!" That was the only time Charlotte 
ever heard him complain. 

Somehow they struggled through the month of January 1942, 
continually contacting fresh people at the various Ministries without 
making any appreciable headway. Then, when they were almost at 
the end of their resources, came the meeting with Goodeve and 


BLFORE Goodeve set out for America he had a long talk with 
Purcell. Obviously there were possibilities in several of the 
inventor's unusual projects, but the Wheezers and Dodgers had 
to concentrate on immediate requirements. Any effective link 
between ship and shore could play a vital part in the coming inva- 
sion, and it seemed to him that the floating bridge was a practical 
proposition, well worth developing. Purcell was therefore instructed 
to persuade Hamilton to drop his Train Ship researches, and he was 
taken on to the strength of D.M.W.D. as a consulting engineer, with 
a directive to concentrate on the bridge alone. 

Finding a code name for the project was not difficult. When the 
prototype of the Bridge was wound up on its spindle and ready for 
launching it looked just like a monster Swiss Roll. 

Hamilton proposed to build his bridge in thousand-foot sections. 
At each junction of the separate lengths there were to be rafts which 
would float under the two ends, and on these rafts he planned to 
mount windlasses for handling the anchor cables. In all, six lengths 
of Swiss Roll and six rafts would make up one floating road- 

To lay the roadway on the surface of the sea special barges 
equipped with cranes would be needed. The sections of Swiss Roll 
would be carried to their destination in landing-craft ; 6000 feet from 
the shore the crane barge would be anchored, and from this sea- 
ward base the floating roadway would be unwound to the beach. 
While the bridge was in use Hamilton calculated that a tension of 
some 20 tons would have to be applied at the seaward end by winch- 
ing on the anchors of the barge. 

The first step was to build an experimental, full-scale version of 
Swiss Roll, and by June 1942 this was taking shape in the dockyard 
at Portsmouth. There were problems to be overcome with the secur- 
ing of the Bridge, for if normal anchors were used these would pre- 
vent ships from coming alongside. Hamilton got over this difficulty 


by designing sheerlegs which were flexibly mounted at each end of 
the runway. He then tackled a more awkward snag. 

The Bridge would have to be used at all hours of the day and 
night and in all weathers. Adequate headlights might well be for- 
bidden, and drivers of trucks trying to make the journey across the 
narrow, swaying track in pitch darkness, and perhaps heavy rain as 
well, faced the danger of running their vehicles into the sea. To rely 
on visual steering was obviously out of the question. 

Hamilton then had a brainwave. He went to the L.P.T.B. depot 
at Chiswick, where all sorts of ingenious stability tests were carried 
out with London buses. There were kerbs of various heights and 
widths, and when the buses were run up against these obstacles 
special instruments measured the force exerted on the wheels as the 
kerbs turned them. 

After discussing his problem with the technicians of the Passenger 
Transport Board he designed a kerb for Swiss Roll which could be 
placed in position after the Bridge had been anchored. To his delight 
he found that this steered the truck perfectly. The driver could, in 
fact, negotiate the floating roadway blindfold, or with his hands off 
the steering-wheel, and no amount of skidding caused by the waves 
placed the vehicle in any peril. 

Other experiments were carried out to test the stability of the 
Bridge in rough seas. An M.T.B. was brought into the tidal basin 
where Swiss Roll lay, and while a lorry started down the track in one 
direction the M.T.B., proceeding at high speed on an opposite 
course, deliberately raised seven-foot waves which hurled themselves 
against the frail structure. The lorry rode the waves like the most 
seaworthy of boats, and Goodeve was able to report jubilantly to 
Jock Davies, "I am satisfied that the Bridge will be unharmed by 
storms, and will be usable in all but the worst weather." 

By midsummer they were no longer living permanently at the 
Grosvenor. Most of the work was done at Portsmouth, but they 
retained the wing in the hotel, and frequently stayed odd nights 
there. Peter Hamilton spent much of the summer with them at Ports- 
mouth, and proved a tower of strength. He would work all day on 
the development of the Bridge, and then study until late into the 
night, preparing for the two scholarship examinations he faced at 
Cambridge. He won both of them. 

Although work on Swiss Roll was proceeding satisfactorily enough 
at this stage, Hamilton himself now began to have doubts about its 
development. Never a calm man, he was living on his nerves. He 
drove himself at such a pace that the strain inevitably told on him 
and on those around him. When he was tired and on edge he lost 
his self-control, making slighting, bitter criticisms of his closest friends 


and helpers. They, in their turn, would react violently at times, so 
that each side was unfair to the other. 

His greatest handicap, however, was his inordinate passion for 
inventing, which, oddly enough, surpassed his interest in the success- 
ful completion of any of his projects. With Swiss Roll this tendency 
of his grew to a positive mania, and as the summer of 1942 wore on 
the trials at Portsmouth produced continual rows, culminating in a 
violent scene on the eve of the first full-scale demonstration of the 
Bridge to a host of senior officers from the Admiralty, the War Office, 
and the headquarters of Combined Operations. 

For several weeks Hamilton had been in a particularly tempera- 
mental and exasperating mood, and Goodeve had found increasing 
difficulty in keeping a firm grip on his ideas. He was hysterical and 
emotional and he could not stop inventing. One design would 
prove perfectly satisfactory. Then Hamilton would go away and 
think up a series of complicated snags, a whole chain of new mis- 
haps which might befall the Bridge unless he embodied counter- 
devices in its construction. To him the Bridge was never really ready 
for demonstration; there was always some 'improvement* to be 
made, and on the evening of Thursday, September 24, this led to a 
dramatic impasse. 

During the day the M.T.B. had been brought back into the basin 
again, and it had charged backward and forward between the wall 
of the jetty and the long strip of floating roadway, while Bdfidd, 
suspended from a crane, took photographs of the effect of the 

Hamilton then decided that further modifications must be made 
before Swiss Roll was shown to the V.LP.'s next day, and on his own 
initiative he gave orders for the Bridge to be dismantled. His inten- 
tion was to incorporate an additional form of stabilizer which had 
just occurred to him, and he asked for a special night shift of dock- 
yard workers to carry out the job. 

When Goodeve arrived from London that evening, and found 
out what was happening, he was furious. He went to the dockyard, 
ordered the dismantled part of the Bridge to be reassembled, and left 
it imder armed guard. He then warned Hamilton that he was not to 
re-enter the dockyard that night. 

Hamilton was in a frenzy. Bitterly he accused Goodeve of sabotag- 
ing his plans, and he threatened to sue him. Reasoned argument was 
impossible with Hamilton in this hysterical mood, and Goodeve went 
to bed. 

The demonstration next day was, in fact, a complete success, but 
for some time afterwards Hamilton refused to be consoled. There 
were several further trials to be staged, and Goodeve, disturbed at the 


prospect of what Hamilton might still try to do, telephoned Charlotte 
and asked her to calm her husband down. 

"I've seen so many projects ruined because the inventor has 
refused to stop tampering with them," he said earnestly. Charlotte, 
to whom her husband's modifications seemed, at the time, so simple 
to cany out, disagreed with him. But Goodeve had seen the red 

By the end of the month the trials of Mark I had been completed. 
Hamilton, however, had had yet another new idea, and he was so 
obsessed with the belief that Swiss Roll could not work without its 
incorporation that he refused f or the time being, at least to have 
anything more to do with D.M. W.D.'s plans for the Bridge. 

The Wheezere and Dodgers had to go ahead without him, and an 
additional trials programme was drawn up to cover such points as 
the drag produced by cross-tides, the rolling up and retrieving of the 
sections of Swiss Roll from the water, and the resistance of the float- 
ing roadway to cannon and machine-gun fire. 

Tests made by experts at H.M.S. Excellent proved that the planks 
of the Bridge, being awash, were very difficult to damage by gunfire. 
The water cushioned and reduced the blast, and only six hits were 
scored in 180 cannon rounds. Excellent also reported that Swiss Roll 
would be immune from torpedo attack and an unprofitable target 
for dive-bombing. 

In his attempts to justify the modifications which Goodeve had 
condemned as impracticable Hamilton continued to experiment on 
lines of his own. After toiling for several weeks he himself came to 
the same conclusion. And by this time he was having second thoughts 
about his attitude to the department employing him. 

Swallowing his pride, he wrote to Jock Davies, apologizing for the 
"differences and difficulties" and attempting to explain the reason 
for his actions. 

During the Small Wave trials I saw that a cross sea caused the 
lorry to swing across the roadway, and the kerb arms, at a tension of 
24 tons, rose to a height which allowed too great an eccentricity of 
the wheds from the centre of the wires. 1 1 therefore added two more 
tension wires on each side, and this alleviated the trouble for small 

He went on to raise other problems which had come out of the 
Large Wave trials mainly the anchoring down of the kerb arms 
to strengthen the automatic steering under difficult tide and wave 
conditions, and the reduction of a bending moment in the bridge. 

1 It was important that the wheels of any vehicle travelling on the bridge 
should remain as far as possible directly over the tension wires. AUTHOR. 


One day shortly before he wrote to Davies he had journeyed to 
London to report how these faults could be put right, but he was 
incensed to find that a conference on these very points had been 
held without him. Whereupon he had again lost his temper with 

He accused D.M.W.D. of wasting time by working on the wrong 
lines, and when Goodeve passed the ball to him, listing several points 
which still demanded an answer, Hamilton had attempted to provide 
snap solutions without sufficient thought. His extemporary answers 
were quickly faulted by various people present, and Hamilton, trying 
to improvise still further, had got himself into a worse tangle than 

Jock Davies replied to his apologia pleasantly but firmly, pointing 
out in conclusion that he was directing the development of Swiss 
Roll by instructions from the Board of Admiralty: 

While giving yourself and other consultant engineers as free a 
hand as possible I have got to criticize as well as listen, in order that 
my decisions and recommendations to the Board and other high 
authorities may be the correct ones in the light of all available 

After that Hamilton calmed down. It had been an agonizing 
period, particularly for his family, but on October 8 Charlotte was 
able to record in her diary the single, thankful phrase "Kiss and be 
friends ! " The storm had spent itself at last. 

Early in 1943 construction of Swiss Roll began in Bute West 
Dock at Cardiff, under Urwin's supervision. When the first full-scale 
sections were ready sea trials were carried out at Appledore. 

There were destined to be further vicissitudes before Swiss Roll 
played its part in the invasion of Normandy, but reference to the 
Bridge at Arromanches belongs to a later chapter. It is fitting here, 
however, to follow the strange story of Ronald Marsden Hamilton 
to its end. 

With the production of Swiss Roll now going ahead, Hamilton's 
inventive mind began to range out in new directions. He drew up 
preliminary designs of cross-Channel bridges, assault bridges, and 
aircraft runways. And he began to ponder the problem of the pier- 
heads which would be needed for unloading cargo from ships at sea 
during the invasion. 

He maintained that the simplest and most effective type of pier- 
head would be a triangular, flexible, floating carpet, which could be 
made fast to the ship. From this was born perhaps his most impor- 
tant invention of all Lily, the floating runway for aircraft. 


Using the same principle as Swiss Roll, but making his floating 
carpet flexible laterally as well as longitudinally, he found that he 
could build whole artificial islands of any shape or size on the sur- 
face of the sea. They were made of hundreds of hexagonal buoyancy 
cans, 6 feet wide and 30 inches deep, which were linked and clamped 
together so ingeniously that they 'gave 3 in controlled undulations 
while retaining a surface rigid enough to take the weight of heavy 
aircraft. The flexibility of these man-made islands could be simply 
controlled by the action of underwater dampers. 

Like Swiss Roll, the appearance of the structure inspired its code 
name. As Hamilton's Island lay on the sea the six-sided cans which 
composed its surface looked just like the pads of some giant water- 

His very first experiments were made with bundles of wooden 
spars, wired together and launched at Emsworth, near Portsmouth, 
but these disintegrated in the water. Then came the idea of using 
the steel buoyancy cans, and the swift progress of Lily revived dreams 
of Atlantic seadromes and cross-Channel bridges schemes which 
had thwarted many an inventor over the years. 

D.M.W.D. held the first full-scale trials of Lily off Lamlash, in 
the Isle of Arran. They found it was easily possible to assemble a 
strip 550 feet long and 60 feet wide in an hour, using a working 
party of 40 men, and from this runway a Swordfish aircraft made a 
series of rocket-assisted take-offs. 

Lily's flexibility formed a saucer-like depression under the Sword- 
fish's weight. This lengthened the take-off, as the 'plane had to climb 
out of its own depression, but it slowed the aircraft down very con- 
veniently in the last fifty feet of its landing. 

Pilots reported that touching down on the island was little differ- 
ent from landing on the deck of a carrier. They had, however, one 
or two tense moments, for an M.L. was used to make artificial waves, 
circling round and round the Lily field, and on one occasion the 
Swordfish's propeller tips, tilted down by the wave undulations, 
struck the metal surface of the runway. 

The experimental strip at Lamlash was deliberately limited in size, 
and only Swordfish and Auster aircraft could use it, but Hamilton 
showed by calculation that a similar runway 1200 feet long and 90 
feet wide would comfortably take a Hurricane fighter, and winds up 
to 60 m.p.h. would not put the airstrip out of action. When he had 
fitted his special dampers to the underside of the island Lily remained 
quite flat in waves up to 36 feet from crest to crest. The airfield could 
be easily dismantled, moved, and reassembled, and more than once 
in those wild waters off the Scottish coast an impressive demonstra- 
tion of this was given. In a wind approaching gale force an entire 


island was laid down on the sea and made secure by only two 

Maintenance was just as simple as installation, for Lily had only 
to be painted from time to time, and the hinge bolts on the buoyancy 
cans occasionally greased; after nine months in the water off Lam- 
lash the floating runway showed little deterioration, and it withstood 
heavy seas. 

The importance of Hamilton's discovery was plain. One ship 
could carry a whole airfield without difficulty, and with the idea of 
using these maritime runways during the approach to the Japanese 
mainland development was pressed forward. The islands could be 
built up in the sheltered waters of Pacific lagoons, and with their aid 
powerful reinforcements of fighter aircraft could provide cover for 
the ships and bombers closing in on Japan. 

Hiroshima, however, forestalled many plans. Lily was never tested 
in war, but Hamilton realized the peace-time possibilities of his 
invention, and when he was handed back his patents for Swiss Roll 
and Lily he formed a small company to exploit them commercially. 
He took an office in Howick Place, Victoria Street not far from 
the Grosvenor Hotel and from there he launched an energetic 
campaign to secure orders. 

He was certain that his luck had changed at last. Once again the 
mirage of wealth and success beckoned to him, and it did seem, 
indeed, that he could hardly fail. He saw many r&les for his floating 
islands as pleasure promenades, artificial harbours, and safe 
bathing-pools at seaside resorts. His Lily strips could be used as load- 
ing bays for flying-boat stations, and he even put forward a sugges- 
tion for making additional car-parks with Lily units along certain 
stretches of the Thames. 

These were the minor projects. His major plans were for the con- 
struction of vast floating airfields, and he went abroad to Canada 
and Sweden to sell the idea. 

In a prospectus he issued soon after forming his company he 
reiterated the soundness of the principle of Rolling Dynamic Buoy- 

A rigid floating structure must be strong enough to withstand the 
large beam stresses set up by waves. Many people think that huge 
ships like the Queen Mary have almost reached the limit of length 
... the hogging and sagging forces as an Atlantic roller passes under 

them are enormous If, instead of resisting these forces, a degree 

of flexibility is introduced into the structure the forces diminish 

Hamilton stressed too the remarkable simplicity of his Lily 


They are completely stable. A man can stand on one unit while 
erection or dismantling is taking place. When erection takes place 
from a ship two men on a growing raft can assemble the units as 
fast as they can be lowered by derrick. 

Ronald Hamilton had a strong sense of responsibility to all the 
people who had helped him in difficult times, either with money or 
advice, and he insisted on giving many of them large numbers of 
shares in the new undertaking. J. S. Herbert, who had never 
accepted any payment in all the time he worked with Hamilton 
during his holidays from Eton, was made a director of the company. 
To Goodeve Hamilton gave 200 shares. 

He was buoyantly optimistic, and, indeed, success seemed within 
his grasp. Sweden sent an emissary to examine the possibilities of 
building a huge Lily island in the centre of Stockholm. They 
envisaged a terminal for transatlantic aircraft, and for long a 
15,000,000 scheme was under serious consideration. But in the 
end nothing came of it. 

Other inquiries seemed equally promising, but a malign influence 
dogged all Ronald Hamilton's endeavours. Negotiations rarely 
foundered on any technical snag; some extraneous factor would 
intervene, and plans would be shelved indefinitely. 

At last, however, a concrete offer was made. He was invited to 
build a Lily bridge across the Severn for 25,000. 

Hamilton was wildly excited. Here was a wonderful shop-window 
for his invention. It could sweep him to prosperity. But once again 
luck deserted him. Owing to the scouring effect of the tide in the 
river, he encountered unexpected problems with the anchoring of his 
bridge. While he was searching desperately for a remedy the backers 
of the scheme, alarmed at his slow progress, withdrew financial 
support. And on this setback the project folded up. 

An award of 8000 was made to him for his war-time inventions, 
but it came too late to be of any personal benefit. He had already 
been forced to sell his patents, and soon afterwards his little company 
passed into other hands. 

Undaunted, he turned his attention to a new sphere altogether, 
and began working on a scheme for eliminating wear and tear of rail- 
way rolling-stock. His plan called for the use of a new type of rail, 
and raised interesting problems of heat expansion. 

In the latter days of 1952 he summoned Herbert to London to 
discuss the mathematical calculations involved, and when they met 
he announced with all his old optimism that this time he could not 
fail to succeed; on Goodeve's introduction British Railways had 
shown keen interest in his theories, and the first trials were to be 
held shortly. 


It struck the Eton master that Hamilton was far from well, but he 
seemed temporarily buoyed up by enthusiasm for the new project. 
When they got down to intricate technical argument, however, Her- 
bert noticed that he grew rapidly tired, and seemed to find difficulty 
in concentrating. 

It was the last time he ever saw him. In January 1953 Ronald 
Hamilton died at the early age of fifty-four, and the dreams of a 
genius remained unfulfilled. 



A plans for the attack on the coast of Northern France took 
shape D.M.W.D. were called upon to study a problem of 
considerable complexity. The fate of the invasion might, 
indeed, depend on its solution, for the task entrusted to the Wheezers 
and Dodgers was the destruction of the Atlantic Wall. 

It was reported that the enemy beaches were defended by an 
enormous bastion of reinforced concrete ten feet high and seven 
feet thick. Before any troops landing on the beaches could reach the 
country beyond, this would have to be knocked down or, at any 
rate, a breach would have to be made in it large enough for a tank to 
pass through. 

To breach a wall of these dimensions meant that one ton of high 
explosive must be placed at its foot and in dose contact with-it. The 
beach itself would, it was assumed, be sown with landmines in front 
of the wall, and the whole area would be swept by heavy fire from 
small arms and mortars manned by the Germans. The problem 
facing D.M.W.D. was how to get one ton of high explosive to the 
base of the wall and set it off under these hazardous conditions. 

Norway was puzzling over this one morning in the summer of 
1943 when a Group Captain named Finch-Noyes, who was attached 
to the headquarters of Combined Operations, came to see him. He 
brought with him some rough sketches of a remarkable device. 

It consisted of two enormous steel wheels, each 10 feet in diameter, 
with a tread about a foot wide. They were connected by a drum-like 
axle which,. Finch-Noyes explained, would contain high explosive, 
and the monster would be propelled by a large number of slow- 
burning cordite rockets fitted round the circumference of each wheel. 

The thing would be carried to the shore in a tank-landing-craft. 
When the ramp went down the rockets would be ignited, and the 
monster would propel itself through the shallow water and up the 
beach to the wall like a giant Catherine wheel, reaching a speed of 
perhaps sixty miles an hour by the time it struck the concrete bastion. 
There the steel wheels would collapse, and the drum of T.N.T. would 


be hurled against the foot of the wall, where a mechanical device 
would set off the explosive. 

It was an ingenious and revolutionary conception. The more Nor- 
way studied it, the more it seemed to him that it offered the 
only solution to this highly difficult problem. Williamson, now a 
lieutenant-commander and one of his chief assistants, was called into 
conference with Finch-Noyes, and after a spell at the drawing-board 
the plans for the prototype were taken to a firm of engineering and 
building contractors at Leytonstone. 

Norway christened the monster "Panjandrum" "because the 
gunpowder ran out from its heels" 1 and on August 3, 1943, its 
construction began in great secrecy in a special hut at the Leyton- 
stone works. At the outset a major in the Royal Marine visited the 
factory. For security reasons he insisted on the hut being built round 
the Panjandrum. And he produced a typewritten list of seven 
names. "These are the only people you will allow into the hut while 
this thing is being built," he said to the works manager. Among those 
omitted from the Major's list to the Wheezers and Dodgers' con- 
siderable amusement was Williamson himself, the main Admiralty 
designer of the Panjandrum ! 

Within a month the prototype was completed a considerable 
achievement, for it was a difficult thing to construct. It had to be 
strong enough to stand up to rough going on the beach, but weak 
enough to collapse against the target, for the rockets would be almost 
spent by the time it reached the wall. 

Before they could remove it from the corrugated-iron shed in 
which it was housed the end of the building had to be taken out. In 
the early hours of September 2 the Panjandrum was rolled across 
the yard and loaded on to a transporter. The police had been alerted, 
and with an escort of motor-cyclist outriders the monster set off for 
its trials in the West of England, moving only under cover of dark- 

The precautions taken by the security authorities were somewhat 
peculiar. They insisted that the Panjandrum must stop only at 
approved Admiralty depots on its journey westward, and on arrival 
at these places it was hurriedly locked up before curious civilians 
could catch a dose glimpse of it. 

When it arrived at Appledore, however, Security abandoned all 
interest in it. The Panjandrum was rolled off the transporter on to 
the beach, where it was promptly surrounded by holidaymakers, who 

*"and there were present the Picninnies, and the Joblillies and the Gary- 
alies, and the grand Panjandrum himself . . . and they all fell to playing the 
game of catch as catch can, till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their 
boots." SAMUEL FOOTE (1720-77). 


gazed with awe at the towering wheels and prodded the rocket- 
holders inquisitively. 

In the region of Appledore the Combined Operations Experimen- 
tal Establishment, known as COXE, had been set up to try out all 
manner of invasion projects. They tested different types of landing- 
craft, the discharge of vehicles from ships by pontoons and cause- 
ways, the swimming-off of amphibians, and the pentration and clear- 
ing of beach obstacles. 

It was the ideal rehearsal area. The gradient of the open beaches 
off Westward Ho! and the tidal conditions were almost identical 
with those which would be encountered on the far side of the Chan- 
nel. Near by the coast offered every kind of trial for a raiding party 
or a major landing force. Appledore had its long, open, sea beaches, 
with periods of high surf, and within the estuary were other more 
sheltered beaches, both flat and steep. Vehicles could be tested over 
mud, shingle, sand-dunes, or rocks, and demolition teams, too, had 
ample room for their hazardous experiments. 

After some discussion the Great Panjandrum was taken to West- 
ward Ho !, where at the head of the beach a great pebble ridge runs 
parallel to the sea, and on the morning of September 7 it was decided 
to launch the monster on its maiden run. First its central, explosive 
drum was filled with 4000 pounds of dried sand. Then the rockets 
were clamped in position. As no one was quite certain how the Pan- 
jandrum would behave only eighteen rockets were tried at the start, 
but even so it was an awe-inspiring sight. 

Surrounded in clouds of smoke and flame, the Panjandrum thun- 
dered down the ramp of the landing-craft, ploughed its way through 
the water, and set off up the beach. It kept a relatively straight course 
until two of the rockets on one side failed to ignite, causing it to swing 
to starboard, but Norway saw it was much underpowered, and it 
came to a standstill after covering 220 yards. 

The rolling resistance on the sand seemed a great deal higher than 
they had expected, and without more rockets it was obvious that the 
Panjandrum would never reach a speed of 60 m.p.h. at the head of 
the beach. 

They decided to double the number of rockets, fitting them on to 
the inside of the wheels, and next day these extra rockets arrived by 
air, Anxious to get them fitted before darkness set in, Williamson 
went over to COXE to ask for assistance. The only British welding 
equipment was out of action through generator failure, but a 'phone 
call to an American Army unit near by produced instant results. 

A large truck bearing a Chrysler generating set appeared in a 
matter of minutes, and with it a welding team headed by two non- 
commissioned officers smoking large cigars. They greeted William- 


son with jovial informality, slapping him on the back and addressing 
him as "Bud," but as soon as they got down to work the job was 
finished in next to no time 

The following day the Panjandrum was loaded into its landing- 
craft and taken round to Instow Beach, inside the Torridge estuary. 
With clouds of steam hissing around it, it negotiated 150 yards of 
water quite successfully, but just before it reached the target-marker 
on the beach a patch of uneven, loose sand slowed it up. Again some 
rockets failed, and it swerved aside, coming to rest after 406 yards. 
It was still far too slow, and more stability was obviously needed. 

The Wheezers and Dodgers returned to London, and an inquest 
was held in the department. Captain Jeans presided; Finch-Noyes 
and Lieutenant-Commander the Earl of Antrim came over from 
Combined Operations; and Richardson, Norway, Guggenheim, and 
Abel were also present. 

To reduce the Panjandrum's instability Williamson suggested the 
fitting of a third wheel, and this was agreed, but when they came to 
discuss the rocket problem there was some difference of opinion. 
Norway contended that the faster the Panjandrum travelled the 
straighter it ought to go; Guggenheim took the view that it should 
begin its run slowly, and work up gradually to its maximum speed. 
In the end it was decided to double the number of rockets once again. 

The Panjandrum team returned to their temporary headquarters 
at Bideford, and on September 27 a three-wheeled Panjandrum was 
placed on a special wooden ramp erected near the waterline. Before 
they could try it out, however, a fault developed in the electrical 
wiring circuit, and although they worked desperately to dear this 
they were overtaken by the tide. Rolling in across the bay the sea 
engulfed the great machine, and, to Williamson's dismay, the centre 
wheel collapsed. Some of the rockets were salvaged, but it was three 
weeks before the juggernaut was again ready for action. 

Powered by more than seventy rockets on its third outing, the Pan- 
jandrum gave a sensational display. No sooner had it reached the 
water's edge than it swerved violently back towards the sea, heeling 
over until the wheel flanges caught in the sand. The Panjandrum 
lurched and overturned, the crash dislodging several of the rockets, 
which flew low over the beach in all directions, while others, still 
secured to the perimeter of the outer wheel, continued to explode 
under water, sending up fierce jets of steam. 

When they examined the wreckage they found that the centre 
wheel had become badly distorted. They therefore abandoned the 
third-wheel experiment and tried a different stabilizing scheme. 

A steering system was rigged up, cables controlled by naval kite 
balloon winches acting as brakes on the large axle of the Panjan- 


drum, and on October 26 the monster was given its fourth trial, at 
Westward Ho! 

Two one-ton cables, 2000 feet long, were used, and Norway and 
Williamson each took charge of a winch. The beach was ribbed, 
soft, and very wet, but this time the Panjandrum worked up to a 
tremendous speed, and when Norway applied the brake to steady 
it, the cable on the port side snapped off close to the machine. It 
came whistling back like a bullet, and both the steersmen had to 
hurl themselves face downward on the wet sand. The working of the 
starboard wire showed that the steering system had possibilities, but 
when they tried it out next day again one of the cables snapped. 
Trials were therefore suspended to await a heavier wire. 

With this fitted, and new winches operating, they launched the 
Panjandrum once more on November 12. It was a fine autumn day, 
and this time the beach was hard and smooth. A marker post was 
erected 250 yards down the beach, and they tried to demolish this. 
In spite of a cross-wind there was no difficulty in steering the Pan- 
jandrum, but the target was hidden in smoke as the machine thun- 
dered towards it. At the half-way stage one rocket burst from its 
clamps and released another, but on the whole the Panjandrum 
gave quite a satisfactory account of itself. 

Norway was still worried, however, by the stability problem. At 
length it dawned on him what was happening. The power needed to 
make it reach the desired speed against the rolling resistance on the 
sand exerted so much torque that wheel-slip was developing. The 
steering-gear showed some promise, but he felt that this would never 
hold the huge machine with any certainty. The real basis of direc- 
tional control was the grip of the wheels on the sand, and on an 
uneven surface the Panjandrum might well run amok. 

The Wheezers and Dodgers realized that the experiments were 
becoming extremely dangerous, and the hazards were increased by 
the erratic behaviour of the rockets, which were not designed to 
withstand a lateral centrifugal force while burning. When the speed 
of the Panjandrum rose to over 50 m.p.h. it was common for one or 
two rockets to burst. This usually destroyed the attachment of 
adjacent rockets, which began darting all over the beach. These 
rockets were formidable pieces of ironmongery, each weighing some 
20 pounds and burning for 40 seconds with a thrust of 40 pounds. 
When one broke away from the side of the Panjandrum it would 
scream across the sand in a series of hops at a height of only two or 
three feet, its progress lasting half a minute or more. A trial run was 
therefore a thing which had to be seen to be believed, the Panjan- 
drum * hurtling mass of smoke and flame often careering straight 
for the spectators, or at the cine-operator, who usually thought he 


had chosen a safe position, while rockets which had burst free from 
the wheels flew in all directions. 

The hazards, however, had to be accepted. On the afternoon of 
the same day November 12 they decided to test the monster over 
a chain of small craters, three rows of mines being detonated to 
make them. 

The Panjandrum travelled at a higher speed than ever before, and 
right from the start the steering became erratic. The machine took a 
sinuous path, with violent swings at each touch of the brake, and 
after covering 140 yards it lurched wildly to port. 

Norway threw up his hands to release all the burden from the 
steering apparatus, and this caused an instant overrun which locked 
both winch wires. The Panjandrum pivoted towards the sea and 
came to a halt. They found that this last fierce turn had badly dis- 
torted the starboard wheel. 

The D.M.W.D. team returned to their hotel thoroughly dejected 
The Panjandrum was quite unpredictable, and there seemed to be 
no end to its fits of temperament. Talking things over, they decided 
that the new band brakes were too powerful, even if controlled with 
a light touch. A different type of brake must be designed. If, too, an 
angle was introduced on the steel tyres this might give the machine a 
firmer grip on the sand. 

No more trials took place before the end of the year. Various 
modifications were made, and two new Panjandrums were built in 
London". While they were being made ready word came to 
D.M.W.D. that close accuracy of steering was no longer considered 
imperative by the invasion planners. 

When they next assembled at Westward Ho!, early in January 
1944, the Panjandrum which they loaded into the L.C.T. was 
almost a reversion to the original prototype in appearance, with 
just the two lo-foot wheels, the axle chamber (ballasted with two 
tons of sand), and no steering-gear fitted. In the morning the Pan- 
jandrum was given a preliminary run with forty-eight rockets in 
position. Norway hoped for a speed of 65 miles an hour, but this 
time it mysteriously failed to reach even 50 m.p.h. over a measured 
800 yards. 

After lunch a resplendent gathering of admirals and generals 
made their way to the pebble ridge. There were a number of dis- 
tinguished scientific observers present too. Whitehall had come to 
pass judgment on the Great Panjandrum, and the Wheezers and 
Dodgers sensed that this trial would decide its fate. 

Fust, two minefields were detonated to provide the crateis which 
would be encountered on an enemy beach. Klemantaski, who was to 
photograph the run, chose a position about half-way up the course. 


As he got his cine equipment ready he was joined by several Brass 
Hats, and an Airedale dog, owned by an Army officer and rejoicing 
in the name of Ammonal, which had somehow discovered what was 

Far down the beach lay the L.C.T. Through his binoculars Kle- 
mantaski could see the Panjandrum being brought to the head of 
the ramp. Then the signal was given, and Abel, crouched behind a 
wall of sandbags on the deck of the landing-craft, pressed the firing 

The Panjandrum made a slow, impressive start. As it began to 
move towards him it reminded Klemantaski of a photograph he had 
just seen of one of the new German rocket missiles leaving its launch- 
ing platform. 

In the first few yards the inevitable rocket burst from its clamps. 
Two more broke free, but now the Panjandrum was moving at a 
terrific speed. To Klemantaski, with his long experience of motor- 
racing, it seemed to be nearing a hundred miles an hour a rushing 
inferno of smoke and fierce jets of fire. 

At 80 yards the monster crossed one line of craters, and the shore- 
side wheel dipped ominously. At 120 yards the awed watchers 
realized it was out of control. The Panjandrum began to swing in 
a great curve to starboard. Hypnotized by the vast Frankenstein 
object roaring across the sand, Klemantaski continued to photograph 
it until it was heading straight for him. Then he sprang to his feet 
and ran for his life, following the V.I.P.'s as they flung themselves 
headlong down the far side of the pebble ridge into a mass of barbed 

"At any moment we expected the monster to come hurtling over 
the brow and crush us all to death." 

But the seconds passed and nothing happened. So they crawled 
back up the stony slope. From the crest of the ridge they saw an 
amazing sight. 

The Great Panjandrum was in its death throes. It had swung 
back to seaward and crashed over on its side on the sand. This 
smothered the rockets which were underneath, but the others con- 
tinued to explode, wrenching and distorting the whole frame, until 
the remainder burst from their fittings and screamed off along the 
the beach in every direction, some vainly pursued by the Airedale 

When the pyrotechnics were over, and the awestruck admirals, 
generals, and scientists descended cautiously to the beach, all that 
remained of the Great Panjandrum was a twisted and blackened 
mass of wreckage. Round it lapped the incoming tide. 

Various eminent authorities were consulted, but it proved impos- 


sible to overcome the two major defects. To cure the instability of 
the Panjandrum some suggested putting special treads on the steel 
tyres; others wanted to remove the tyres altogether and let the 
machine run on spikes. But it was the peril from the rockets which 
really sealed the fate of the monster. The risk of them breaking loose 
while the machine was still on board its landing-craft was too great 
to accept, and the project was reluctantly abandoned. 

The official reason for the genesis of the Great Panjandrum may 
never be told. Even to-day there is still some mystery about it, for 
the Atlantic Wall, which it was called into being to demolish, never 
in fact existed in the form outlined to D.M.W.D. The beaches ulti- 
mately assaulted by the Allies in Normandy had no defence of this 
kind, and the proposal may well have been put up by the Staff in 
the hope that it would leak out to the enemy, thus convincing them 
that we intended to attack that part of the coast where such walls 
had already been built. 

The Wheezers and Dodgers' work on the North Devon coast was, 
however, turned to good account. It stimulated and advanced re- 
search in the department on a much more tractable engine of war, 
the Alligator, and before long this amphibious counterpart of the 
Great Panjandrum was swimming happily in the Solent. 



E 1 IHE task of launching 100,000 men against a hostile shore 

I produced problems in such array that even in a relatively small 
JL research organization like D.M.W.D. it was far from easy to 
chart the progress of every project examined and tackled as the 
invasion drew nearer. 

In addition to work on the major undertakings like assault craft, 
cliff scaling gear, the clearing of obstructions from beaches and ports, 
radar deception measures, and Pluto, the gigantic cross-Channel 
pipeline, a host of minor problems were brought to the Wheezera 
and Dodgers. All were vital links strengthening the chain of prepara- 
tions which had to be forged before D-Day. 

Some of the earliest links in that chain were provided by small 
parties of men who paddled ashore in the darkness, landing on the 
beaches of Holland, Belgium, and France, and made surveys. Their 
job was to find out which parts of the enemy coast were most vulner- 
able to a landing in strength. Since they carried out their work right 
under the noses of the Germans it was impossible to use any of the 
normal surveying methods. And the task had to be done in complete 

Combined Ops therefore asked D.M.W.D. to devise a "Beach 
Gradient Meter." They wanted a small truck which they could push 
up and down the beach, and which would record on a paper drum 
inside it a graph of the slope. 

To their request they added a pathetic little footnote. It was most 
important, they said, that the wheels should not squeak ! 

The Wheezers and Dodgers produced this device for them, and by 
walking about in the darkness, and pushing the wheeled cart before 
them, the surveying parties were able to secure a complete con- 
toured map of the beach areas they visited. 

It was also necessary to gauge with great accuracy the depth of 
water off the enemy coast. Existing charts might not be entirely 
reliable, and, since certain mathematical experts claimed that this 


information could be secured by dropping large objects into the sea 
and measuring the plume which rose, an aircraft was lent to the 
department, and a series of photographic experiments were carried 
out on a lonely part of the English coast. 

Another minor project was the Invisible Boat. When Laurie re- 
turned from the United States, where he had been in charge of the 
manufacture and fitting of Plastic Armour, he mentioned to Norway 
that enterprising boat-builders in Florida were turning out small craft 
made entirely of Perspex. It had long been the habit of tourists there 
to go afloat in glass-bottomed boats and gaze down on the elabo- 
rate and beautiful coral formations off the coast. Then some one 
had hit on the idea of building entire dinghies of Perspex, which 
allowed holidaymakers to view the wonders of the deep from any 

One particularly interesting fact emerged. When such a boat was 
a hundred yards from the shore it became invisible; the occupants 
appeared to be sliding over the water on their posteriors, with no 
obvious means of support ! 

It seemed to D.M.W.D. that such a craft might be ideal for land- 
ing agents on an alien shore. They therefore made a Perspex boat of 
their own, 9 feet long and 2 feet in the beam, and Norway was told 
to find a suitably secret place for trials. 

At that time he had a house on Hayling Island, with a garden 
running down to a sea creek off Chichester Harbour. At the foot of 
the garden was a secluded boat-house, and the Perspex dinghy was 
taken there for observation tests. These showed that the Florida story 
was well founded. In bright sunlight, with a clear blue sky and blue 
sea, the boat was, indeed, practically invisible. It was equally diffi- 
cult to detect at night with a black sky and black sea, but in overcast 
conditions it was a different story. Against a background of white 
clouds and a dull, leaden-coloured sea the dinghy showed up discon- 
certingly plainly, reflecting the sky and looking almost glaringly 
white. In spite of this snag, however, the very hush-hush organiza- 
tion which dealt with the landing of agents seemed most impressed 
by the trials, and they spirited the boat away to use for their own 
mysterious ventures. 

Meanwhile John Dove had been at work on his own with quite a 
different kind of craft at Dover. To attack the German shipping 
which crept round Cape Griz Nez at night he had devised an explo- 
sive motor-boat. Powered by a Chris Craft engine, it needed no 
crew, for it was the complete robot. Under radio control it could 
start itself, slip from its moorings unaided, and set off on a gyro 
course plotted by the radar sets which directed the big guns at 


He brought it up the Thames to demonstrate it to Captain Jeans. 
Although on that memorable occasion something went wrong with 
the remote-control system, and the boat charged the wall below the 
Houses of Parliament, he eventually induced the robot mechanism to 
work with such uncanny accuracy that the craft could be homed on 
to a target twenty miles away with an error of only twenty yards. 
As things turned out, however, it was destined never to be used in 
its explosive r&le, for a much more important task cropped up. The 
development of the boat went forward as an invasion project, and, 
stripped of its explosive apparatus, it became a cog in the elaborate 
deception plans evolved for D-Day. 

The Dieppe Raid had shown the need for close and powerful sup- 
port for assaulting troops, and one of the major difficulties facing 
General Sir Frederick Morgan and his COSSAC staff was to 
find a way of swamping the enemy defences during the time-gap 
between the end of die naval bombardment and the touchdown of 
the first wave of men to reach the beaches. 

It seemed to the COSSAC planners that the assaulting infantry 
must be accompanied by their own floating artillery "guns, mor- 
tars, and batteries of rockets mounted in small craft." 1 From this 
vital need sprang the most formidable weapon in all the long history 
of shore bombardment the "Rocket Landing Craft." 

The original idea for a landing-craft crammed with rockets, which 
could loose a veritable cloudburst of high explosive over a limited 
area, came from Colonel Langley, who was attached to Combined 
Operations H.Q., and in due course the Wheezers and Dodgers were 
asked to draw up plans for a bombardment weapon of this kind 
which could be both elevated and trained. 

A few days later Goodeve walked into the department. He had 
come to talk over the possibilities of a new gunnery recoil system with 
Richardson, but he noticed some one working at a drawing-board on 
the plans of "Grasshopper" as the rocket craft was known in its 
embryo stage and after studying the drawings for a while he said 
to Richardson, "Surely that must be the wrong approach. If you 
have to train and elevate the banks of rockets you'll run into all sorts 
of unnecessary complications. Why don't you point the ship at the 
target, and discharge the rockets straight from their stowage lockers 
by the ripple-firing system?" 

D.M.W.D. had already used ripple-firing with great success. It 
was simple and almost foolproof. In front of the operator was a circle 

1 See Chester Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe (Collins, 1952). COSSAC was 
the chief planning organization for the invasion, its short title standing for Chief 
of Staff to Supreme Allied Commander. 


of studs, each one connected to a group of rockets, and when an 
arm geared to guard against over-rapid movement passed across 
these an electrical contact was made, and each batch of rockets fired 
in quick succession. 

Goodeve knew that this method was ideal for the job in hand, and 
quite safe to use for if the ship was rolling more than a certain num- 
ber of degrees firing could be instantly checked by a special isolating 
switch. His intervention, however, led to much controversy. Both the 
Gunnery Division and the Naval Ordnance experts were strongly in 
favour of training and elevating the banks of rockets; indeed, a 'gun' 
which could not be trained or elevated must have seemed at first 
sight a startlingly revolutionary proposition for the Navy. But Nor- 
way and Brookfield prepared plans for a fixed projector, and Good- 
eve's powers of logical persuasion finally won the day. 

This aspect apart, the Grasshopper raised a number of novel prob- 
lems. The intention was to fire between 800 and 1000 rockets from 
the deck of one ship, but the vital question was, "How many can be 
discharged at the same time?" 

In the first trial, which took place off Spithead in bad weather on 
April 1 1, 1943, the size of the salvos was gradually increased to 198 
rockets, fired in groups of 33 at intervals of half a second. At each 
discharge blasts of hot air eddied back over the screen on the bridge, 
and by the fourth salvo the searing heat was building up so fast that 
Dr Bourdillon and Eades, peering over the side, had their hair, eye- 
brows, and clothing severely singed. So violent was the thrust of the 
rockets that the great tank-landlng-craft began to go rapidly astern 
as the salvos left her deck. 

From this experience it was obvious that members of the crew in 
exposed positions would become seriously burned if the complete 
mass of rockets was fired at once. At the same time hundreds of the 
rockets themselves would be subjected to flame and very hot gases; 
this might well detonate the cordite or buckle the projectors, thereby 
causing an explosion. 

To ensure the safety of the Rocket Ship's commanding officer 
D.M.WJX recommended the installation of an endosed * kiosk,* like 
a telephone booth, on the upper deck, and they suggested that 
the ship's Ack-Ack gunners should be issued with special asbestos 
clothing. The heat problem plainly required further examination, 
and on April 21 tests were carried out by remote control. The 
Wheezers and Dodgers planted a number of devices on board for 
gauging the temperature in the rocket tails sensitive paints, alcohol 
thermometers, and certain crystals with a known melting-point 
which were sealed in small tubes. 

This time 759 rockets were fired in the usual batches of 33. Great 


waves of flame swept over the bridge of the landing-craft, and the 
fierce build-up in temperature sent a flood of red paint pouring 
through cracks in the deck to smother the array of scientific detect- 
ing instruments which were thought to have been safely positioned 

Temperatures of more than 800 degrees were recorded in the 
vicinity of the rockets, and when an electrical fault led to two salvos 
firing very close together the heat went up to i ooo degrees! 

To close observers the Rocket Landing Craft in action was an 
unforgettable sight. Stretching away along the lower deck from the 
base of the bridge were serried ranks of huge rockets, all inclined at 
an angle and looking like some strange, stunted forest. In a few 
seconds the entire mass hundred upon hundred of them could 
be discharged into an area only 750 yards long by 240 yards deep, 
and when the salvos were fired the ship became shrouded in a swirl- 
ing blanket of smoke and flame, out of which the rockets rose like 
flights of birds with fiery tails. 

More protective measures were put in hand by the D.M.W.D. 
team, which included Brookfidd, Byng, and Urwin, and trial num- 
ber three was staged off Portsmouth on April 28. 

This time a slight stern wind was blowing, and it was cooler on the 
bridge, but the deck and the projectors became hotter than ever 
before. It was apparent that on a warm day the risk of a general 
explosion in the landing-craft would be high, and if any technical 
fault caused a delay after the firing of a number of salvos there was 
a danger, too, that the remaining rockets would c cook off.' 

A few days later, therefore, they experimented in a new direction, 
flooding the deck with sea-water during the firing period. This proved 
a great success, and it was decided to go straight ahead with this 
formidable new assault weapon. Plans called for the conversion of 
30 landing-craft to Rocket Ships by April 1944, and each would be 
capable of delivering a full salvo of 1080 rocket shells. The projec- 
tiles themselves were fitted with anti-personnel fuses long sticks 
which protruded from the nose and detonated the explosive just 
above ground-level and, although so many soared into the air at 
once, the ripple system, which followed a set pattern, prevented them 
from colliding with each other. 

Apart from one further trial in the autumn, when for the first time 
they saw over a thousand rockets discharged from one of the more 
advanced types of Grasshopper craft, the Wheezers and Dodgers' 
exploratory work was now at an end, and the production of the 
Rocket Ships was handed over to the Naval Ordnance Department, 
one of whose staff, Lieutenant Hinton, had designed the original 
projectors from D.M.W JX's plans. 


The Rocket Landing Craft, which carried more explosive for its 
size than any vessel ever used for bombardment, provided a terrify- 
ing and completely successful answer to the problem of destroying 
enemy morale at the most vital moment of a landing operation. It 
was regarded by many as the most valuable of all the projects on 
which the Wheezers and Dodgers worked, and both in the Mediter- 
ranean and the Normandy assaults to come it was to prove a dcvas- 
tatingly effective reinforcement to Allied gunfire. 

Although it was now known that no Atlantic Wall, as such, girdled 
the coasts of Northern France, the planners considered it advisable 
to continue experiments with a machine for demolishing major 
obstructions on the enemy beaches. The Panjandrum had proved 
too intractable. Now D.M.W.D. turned to the "Alligator." 

This was an amphibious vehicle, originally designed for rescue 
work in the Everglades swamps of Florida. It had tracks like a tank, 
and on these were little scoop-like spades which propelled it slowly 
through the water. The Americans had shipped many of these odd- 
looking beasts over to Britain, but so far they had not found a use 
for them. The Wheezers and Dodgers now proposed to mount on the 
bows of this amphibian a 'mattress' containing a ton of high explo- 
sive. This would be held by two compressed-air jacks, which would 
press it firmly against a wall or any other type of obstruction it 

The explosive experts maintained that to get the best results the 
mattress would have to lie quite flat against the target. This involved 
the designing of a highly complicated mechanism, for the Alligator 
might strike the wall at an angle, and there was always the possi- 
bility, too, that the wall itself might be overhanging or sloping away 
from the vehicle. 

From an American depot at Bedford D.M.W.D. procured an 
Alligator driven by a powerful Chrysler engine. They then sought the 
aid of the Hudson Motor Company, who had a factory on the Great 
West Road. With their co-operation Williamson designed the high- 
explosive mattress and the supporting jacks; Bidddl tackled the 
intricate electrical problems; and Dove went to work on the radio- 
control gear which was to guide the Alligator from its landing-craft 
to the enemy shore. In quite a short time an automaton even more 
ingenious than the ill-starred Panjandrum began to take shape. 

To assist the Wheezers and Dodgers Hudsons pkced at their 
disposal two mechanics, Frank and Fred, and a Russian designer 
with a name so difficult to pronounce that he became known, for 
convenience, as George ! 

George was a refugee from Stalin a pleasant, quiet man who 


was much perplexed by the freedom of speech allowed to all and 
sundry in the land of his adoption. During breaks in the trials he 
would perch himself on the Alligator and steer the conversation 
round to British politics and politicians. Then he would listen with 
rapt attention. When all the British political parties had been rent 
to shreds with complete impartiality by the naval officers present he 
would grin delightedly and remark with evident satisfaction, "In 
Russia you would all be shot for saying that !" 

When the Alligator was ready for its first test they looked round 
for a target on which to try out the hydraulic system. The explosive 
mattress was slung on two pivots, attached to the outboard end of a 
pair of huge hydraulic rams. These rams were linked in such a way 
that if the Alligator hit an obstruction at an angle the ram taking the 
first impact would be forced inward, breaking a copper seal. This 
would bring into play the ram not in contact, and it would shoot 
out, forcing the other corner of the mattress into position. The pivots 
allowed the load of explosive to turn upward or downward accord- 
ing to the slope of the target, and the actual detonation of the charge 
was effected by mine-detectors fixed on the front of the mattress. 

Near the Hudson works they found a 10-foot wall. To reach this, 
however, they had to drive the Alligator across the Great West Road 
and down a bank on the far side. The amphibian was so vast that 
they could not get it round the island outside the works, and after 
several abortive attempts they sent for the police. The bypass was 
then closed to traffic for half an. hour, and the great beast was 
manoeuvred slowly to its destination. 

This first trial went well. Williamson had been repeatedly re- 
minded by the ballistic experts that the mattress must press tightly 
against the target; to his delight, the hydraulic rams exerted such 
pressure that the whole vehicle,, which weighed 1 1 tons, was pushed 
slowly backward. 

Next the radio-control apparatus was installed, and, borrowing 
two tons of 56-pound weights from a firm in the East End, they car- 
ried out loading trials to test the Alligator's stability in the water. 
They then decided to take it for a cross-country run in Richmond 

It was a lovely spring morning when they set off. The bank of the 
Thames was safely reached, and they entered the water near Kew 
Bridge. The Alligator's snout was then turned upstream, and it swam 
steadily along until the weir at Teddington came in sight. 

As they approached this obstacle the lock-keeper, who had been 
observing them with evident alarm, shouted to Williamson, "You 
can't come through here! We had a doodle-bug on us last 


On the other side of the river was a ramp for small boats, and 
Williamson gazed at it speculatively. 

"You can't go up there either!" bellowed the lock-keeper. "I'm 
not having that thing stuck half-way." 

So they headed downstream again, and, crawling out on the south 
bank, they rumbled across the bridge towards the Park. As they 
swung right for Richmond Hill, however, the port track of the 
Alligator suddenly came off. And there they were, well and truly 

There was no hope of making any rapid running repairs, so a 
guard was placed over the machine, and it remained all night in the 
road, where its strange design and vast bulk it was over 26 feet 
long and 1 1 feet wide made it an object of much curiosity. 

When they got the track back in place next morning they squeezed 
through the gateway into Richmond Park with three-eights of an 
inch clearance on either side. Waiting for them was a Ford station 
wagon fitted with the radio-control apparatus, and for the first time 
they sent the Alligator away on its own, guiding it on a complex 
route in and out of the trees. The remote-control system functioned 
perfectly, but the steering mechanism itself seemed erratic, and it was 
with some misgivings that Williamson, accompanied by the faithful 
Frank, Fred, and George, set out on the homeward journey. 

The Alligator waddled back into the river near the Star and 
Garter, and it had been swimming downstream for some time before 
Williamson noticed that the generator had ceased charging. Almost 
immediately the engine stopped. 

The rapid tide swung the ungainly craft beam on to the current. 
They tried to snatch at several barges as they passed, and then a tug 
came in sight. Realizing what was happening, the tugmaster swung 
his line of lighters across the path of the Alligator, and Williamson 
was able to get a line on board the last of the tow. The tug hauled 
them as far as Chiswick Bridge, where they were able to make fast 
to a buoy. 

They were still trying to decide what to do when a police launch 

"What's all this?" shouted a sergeant. "You can't make tie-up 

"We've got to," said Williamson. "Our engine's failed." 

"I shall have to report you," said the sergeant. "What is this 
craft, anyway, and where are you bound for?" 

"It's Number H.49 I can't tell you any more than that . . . 

and we're bound for the Great West Road !" 

When they had recovered from their astonishment the river police 
fenied one of the Alligator's crew ashore to collect spare parts, 


and they were able to complete the journey under their own 

After modifications had been made the great beast was taken by 
road to Westward Ho ! There Biddell did some brilliant work on the 
electrics of the amphibian, converting the remote-control system so 
that the Alligator could be directed from the air, and it was driven in 
and out of the sea and up and down the beach, guided entirely by 
one of the team flying high above the Devon coast in an Auster. 

From Westward Ho! they moved back to the South Coast for 
extensive sea trials under the supervision of Alec Menhinick. 

On the day of their arrival in the Solent the weather was foul, with 
blinding rain, and Menhinick, in charge of the rolling and pitching 
monster, was mightily relieved when a small landing-craft came out 
to Hamble Spit to meet them and help them to turn round in the 

He was surprised to see that the crew of the landing-craft consisted 
of two Wren ratings, and when the Alligator was safely moored he 
invited them aboard the L.C.T. which was serving as parent ship to 
the amphibian. They looked as if they needed a hot drink, for they 
were soaked to the skin. One of them, known to her friends as 
" Spiff y," eventually arrived in the tiny wardroom of the tank- 
landing-craft. Her hair was plastered down with rain, her jersey and 
serge steamed gently in the reviving warmth of the small cabin, and 
the water dripped from a pair of tattered plimsolls on to the piece of 
matting proudly described as the wardroom carpet. She apologized 
for her bedraggled appearance, but Alec Menhinick thought she 
looked uncommonly attractive. A few weeks later they were married. 

The Alligator was now attached to H.M.S. Tormentor, the small 
craft base in the Hamble, and in the ensuing trials Menhinick had 
D.M.W.D.'s own tank-landing-craft, L.C.T. 2119, at his disposal. 
The Alligator was carried in this, and the small landing-craf t, com- 
manded by Menhinick's future wife, acted as escort and tender. In 
it he made a number of journeys across the Solent to negotiate with 
the local authorities at Ryde, for he discovered that just outside the 
town was a sea wall which would serve admirably as a target for the 
amphibian's steering trials. 

Each time he went to Ryde they made fast to the end of the pier, 
and it never occurred to him that he was not following a perfectly 
normal procedure until one afternoon the Commanding Officer of 
the Landing Craft Flotilla arrived on board bearing a staggering bill 
from the Southern Railway for 'berthing charges' at 2 a time! 

"Look here, Menhinick," he said, "I can't possibly sign this." 

"Oh, that's all right/' said Menhinick, with reckless optimism. "I 
can Just leave it to me!" 


He signed the bill with a flourish, and posted it to Waterloo 
Station. To his considerable relief, the Southern Railway accounts 
department were still puzzling over the identity of the organization 
which had so readily accepted liability for their berthing charges 
when the war ended ! 

The sea trials of the Alligator in the Solent brought the most 
alarming misadventures, and the amphibian was nearly lost on one 
occasion when returning from the target wall at Ryde. It had almost 
reached its parent ship when the engine stalled, and a large wave 
hurled it against the stern of the L.C.T. As soon as the mattress 
struck the side of the ship the copper seal broke, and the heavy 
explosive compartment fortunately filled with harmless ballast 
was carried forward to the full extent of the rams. For a second or 
two the Alligator seemed about to do a crash-dive. Although it then 
steadied itself, it remained at a terrifying angle. With the weather 
blowing up Menhinick thought it highly unlikely that he could keep 
his chajrge afloat, but after the V.I.P.'s watching the trials had been 
ferried ashore the L.C.T. began to tow him slowly towards the 
Hamble river. The voyage lasted all night, and ashore Wren Men- 
hinick, just married to the Alligator's helmsman, spent an anxious 
vigil, certain that she was about to qualify for a widow's pension in 
record time! 

The worst of the experiments with the Ghrysler-engined model 
were over when the Wheezers and Dodgers got a new Alligator alto- 
gether a most impressive monster powered by a Wright Whirlwind 
radial aircraft engine. It was delivered at Hamble in the dead of 
night, while Menhinick was in a sick bed nursing some ribs broken 
in a more recent misadventure with the amphibian. Since he was the 
only one who knew how to drive the newcomer off its transporter he 
was called out. 

It was too dark to see the planks down which the huge vehicle had 
to crawl, and the Alligator and Menhinick soon became airborne. 
The resulting crash, and a blow from one of the steering levers as 
the monster hit the ground, sent him straight back to the sick bay 
with some more ribs out of action. 

One by one the technical difficulties were overcome. The most 
formidable of these was the control of the Alligator from the air at 
night. To show which way it was heading in the darkness two lamps 
were mounted on short masts at either end of the vehicle, and facing 
aft. In theory all one had to do then was to keep the lights in line with 
each other, but in practice it was extraordinarily difficult to see the 
lights at all from 201 aircraft making wide circles at some distance out 
to sea. Menhinick was reduced to constant exasperation. "It's all 
very well for you to say it's easy,'* he said indignantly to Williamson 


in the wardroom one day. " I doubt if even Einstein would be able 
to make the right mathematical allowances if he had to work from 
a sighting base which never stopped moving either horizontally or 
vertically. And you know I can't even add or subtract !" 

In the end, however, the Alligator passed all its trials with colours 
flying, but, exasperatingly enough for the Wheezers and Dodgers, 
who had created this strange and menacing craft, it suffered the same 
fate as the Panjandrum. 

No promising targets could be spied for it on the vital stretch of 
the Normandy coast, and although development continued, in the 
hope that it might be given its baptism of fire in the Far East, it 
never found an enemy stronghold to destroy. 



IN January 1943 it was decided that the main invasion of Europe 
would be launched in the Baie de la Seine. And as the vast project 
took shape one problem dominated the thoughts of the men striv- 
ing to piece together the elaborate jig-saw puzzle of plans for the 
coming assault. Without a harbour of some kind to protect the 
arrival of troops, weapons, vehicles, and stores the whole gigantic 
enterprise might w$ll be doomed. In the chosen area of the Nor- 
mandy coast little more than a summer breeze could produce surf 
conditions which, as Combined Operations H.Q. pointed out, would 
make "the landing of men an operation of great hazard, and the 
delivery of stores practically an impossibility." 

The provision of a harbour was therefore vital to the success of 
"Overlord"; a report to the First Sea Lord called it "the crux of 
the whole operation." What form, however, should an artificial har- 
bour take? As yet no one knew.- 

By strange chance a senior naval officer at Combined Operations 
Headquarters happened to glance at a back number of the Scientific 
American. One article was of absorbing interest to him, for it 
described a series of experiments carried out some thirty years earlier 
with an apparatus for reducing the waves of the ocean. 

It appeared that an American citizen named Brasher a swim- 
ming-bath superintendent used to journey daily to New York 
across the Hudson river, and, being an observant individual, it was 
not long before he noticed an unusual phenomenon. 

Although the surface of the great river was often choppy there 
were certain places along one bank where the water was always calm. 
This puzzled him considerably, and he decided to investigate. He 
then discovered that at each of the points concerned bubbles of air 
were escaping into the river from subterranean tunnels. 

To Brasher this seemed highly significant. If bubbles of air, emerg- 
ing so gently into the river, could calm the broken waters of 
the Hudson surely it might be possible to devise a high-pressure 
apparatus which could reduce the size of waves on the great lakes 


and oceans of the world. The discovery might entirely alter the exist- 
ing conception of harbours and breakwaters; it might even set coastal 
erosion at bay. 

In 1916 the first Bubble Breakwater equipment was tried out on 
the coast of California. Pipes were laid on the sea-bed, and com- 
pressed air was forced through them in an attempt to break up the 
rhythm of the waves. Sure enough, Brasher's apparatus succeeded 
in subduing short, steep waves, but it would only work in these 
limited conditions, and after much unavailing effort the project was 

On the face of it there was little to suggest that the ill-starred trials 
on the Pacific coast more than a quarter of a century before held the 
key to the Normandy landings, but the need to explore any due 
which might solve the Invasion Harbour problem was urgent. 
Brasher's theory was therefore eagerly re-examined in London, and 
the Wheezers and Dodgers were directed to cany out some practical 
tests. A civilian scientist, Dr White, assumed technical control of the 
first experiments, and Coulson assisted him. 

The first apparatus they built was one-fiftieth of full scale. It was 
laid on the bottom of the large tank in the hydraulics laboratory of 
the City and Guilds Institute, in South Kensington; then special 
machinery churned up vicious little 2-inch waves, which chased each 
other across the surface of the water towards a miniature beach, 
where they formed a tiny line of surf. 

Gazing through the glass sides of the tank as the air-pressure was 
switched on, White and Lochner soon had visible proof that Brasher's 
initial optimism had been well founded. A thick stream of bubbles 
rose from the pipe. As soon as these reached the top of the tank the 
waves to leeward of this barrier of air magically died away, and the 
tiny, fretting line of surf disappeared. At first sight it seemed like 
some strange optical illusion, but closer examination showed a logical 
enough reason for this instant quelling of the waters. 

At the moment of arrival at the surface the water rising with the 
line of ascending bubbles divided to form two distinct horizontal 
currents, which flowed away in opposite directions one towards the 
little imitation beach, while the other met the advancing waves, 
sweeping their momentum from under them. It was like watching a 
man trying to mount a descending escalator. If the speed of the esca- 
lator is increased the perspiring victim will eventually make no fur- 
ther progress, even though his legs continue the motions of climb- 

So it was now with the waves in the tank. Individually the par- 
ticles of water were still going through their wave motions, but as the 
bubbles generated their rival stream of power the waves themselves 


came to a standstill, dissipating their energy against this new oppos- 
ing force. 

It was an' exciting revelation but could it ever be reproduced in 
the open sea ? And could the full-scale apparatus be made portable, 
durable, and seaworthy? Lochner was called in, and a thorough 
mathematical investigation of Brasher's theory was set in train, Pro- 
fessor Taylor undertaking to calculate the power which would be 
needed for a working plant. At this stage D.M.W.D. were only 
charged with the production of a breakwater one quarter of a mile 
long, but even so it soon became obvious that power might prove the 
decisive factor. A rough check showed that to keep quite a small 
bubble barrier in operation something in the region of 150,000 h.p. 
would be necessary. 

To discover the effect of a tidal stream on the apparatus tests were 
carried out in the huge Admiralty experimental tank at Haslar. 
There Lochner had a larger version of the perforated pipe towed 
along beneath the surface at varying depths, while waves up to 
1 5 feet in length were generated. 

The trials then switched to Birnbeck. Three big Diesel road- 
breaking compressors were borrowed from the Army, and hundreds 
of feet of special pipe arrived. Holes were drilled, rubber joints were 
fitted, and at the outlet end of each submerged section of the pipe 
corrugated-iron screens were attached. 

The first sea trials were spectacular and somewhat inconclusive. 
They were carried out in lashing rain and rough seas, which re- 
peatedly tore the iron screens from the ends of the pipes and twisted 
the unwieldy network of metal into such a tangle that frequent halts 
were necessary for running repairs. 

Hour after hour Dr White crouched under the wall of the pier, 
entering data in a sodden notebook and occasionally signalling to 
James dose to give him more power from the compressors which 
thundered at the head of the beach. 

Watching these efforts to tame the sea with the cynical amuse- 
ment of a sailor born and bred, John Wide eventually remarked to 
one of the visiting scientists, "You'd get better results if you used 

"Nonsense!" said the civilian. "Pouring oil on troubled waters? 
Complete illusion ... no logic in it. Typical seaman's superstition!" 

This nettled Wide. In his time he had been first mate in sail 
aboard one of the last of the old sailing tankers. 

"FU prove to you that it's nothing of the sort," he said, and, 
waiting for a suitably rough day, he took the reluctant civilian out in 
a small boat. To make the demonstration doubly spectacular he 
detonated an explosive charge on the sea-bed, and then emptied his 


supply of oil over the side. Seasick though he was, the scientist had 
to admit that he was much impressed ! 

The Birnbeck trials showed that a good deal of preliminary work 
had still to be done before the bubble-making equipment was ready 
for its first full-scale test. More powerful generating plant was 
needed, and some way had to be found of anchoring the pipes firmly 
to the sea-bed. 

Dr White and his team returned to London, and Boswell was told 
to dismantle the makeshift apparatus. The three Diesel compressors 
were to be handed back to the Army. This, oddly enough, proved 
impossible, for the Army declared that they had loaned only two 
compressors to the Wheezers and Dodgers. It would, they said, be 
most confusing if three were returned! Boswell stuck to his guns, 
maintaining that even if the R.E.M.E. unit in question had made a 
mistake in their stocktaking there must be some recognized Army 
technique for disposing of surplus stock; in the Royal Navy such 
items were thrown overboard without any of this fuss! The owners 
of the compressor pointed out sarcastically that they worked on dry 
land, and after a final check of their stores they announced belliger- 
ently that H.M.S. Birnbeck would have to keep the third machine, 
whether they wanted it or not ! 

For the first major trial of the Bubble Breakwater D.M.W.D. 
began searching for a site on the coast where ample power was avail- 
able. The type of air-compressing plant now envisaged would have 
to be driven by electricity, and Robert Lochner suddenly thought 
of Portslade, to the west of Brighton, where the great power station, 
with its tall, thin chimneys, was a prominent local landmark. He 
caught a train to Brighton and paid a call on the Borough Engineer. 

War must have inured the Borough Engineer to surprising 
demands from the Services, for when Lochner, who could not 
explain why he wanted them, asked for the use of a stretch of beach, 
some workshops, and an unlimited supply of electricity this mys- 
terious request was granted on the spot. 

The first step was to dear several hundred mines from the beach 
where the Wheezera and Dodgers were to operate. It proved a dan- 
gerous job. One man was killed, and after disagreement with the 
Army over completion of the task the D.M.W.D. team devised their 
own mine-clearance system, setting off the buried mines by rolling 
loaded pipes across the sand. 

A special pump-house was built on the shore, and a team which 
included Byng, Urwin, and Eades, assisted by thirteen divers, began 
laying a Bubble Breakwater 1200 feet long, roughly parallel to the 
beach and 600 yards out to sea. 

Heavy though it was, the bubble pipe floated free as soon as it was 


filled with air, so it had to be sunk on to a bed of concrete blocks 
and weighted down to prevent it from sailing away on the ebbing 
tide. Then began weeks of arduous and heartbreaking experiment. 

At the start it all seemed straightforward enough. They only had 
to contend with 400 feet of pipe, six compressors, and a high-voltage 
electricity supply, but the working parties were dogged by constant 
setbacks. Weather in the Channel was vile, and time after time heavy 
seas tore at the apparatus, wrenching the pipes from their moorings 
and hurling them back on to the shore. Whenever the equipment 
remained in position for any length of time a fresh snag developed. 
The holes in the master pipe became silted up and hidden by drifting 
sand. The divers then had to descend with underwater guns and 
punch more apertures to maintain the density of the bubbles. 

The actual attempts to subdue the waves which came rolling in to 
the Sussex coast were far from encouraging. The available com- 
pressed-air apparatus never satisfied the increasing demands they 
made upon it, and reports reaching D.M.W.D. from American and 
British manufacturers warned that there was now considerable doubt 
whether the required quantity of more advanced plant would be 
forthcoming. Even if this did become available, however, no one 
could yet see, at this anxious stage, how the whole intricate layout 
of pipes and compressing machinery was to be embodied in a port- 
able form. 

It had to be portable, for in an invasion no reliance could be 
placed on shore-based power; the Bubble Breakwater must be fed 
from a vessel moored off the coast. And Lochner began to be 
haunted by nightmare visions of ships, half the size of the Queen 
Mary, with their holds crammed with bubble pipes and masses of 
special machinery. He wondered gloomily what would happen to 
such ships in a Channel gale. 

In March the Combined Chiefs of Staff informed the Admiralty 
that unless some form of artificial harbour could be guaranteed the 
invasion would have to be called off. By now the planners had 
further complicated D.M.W.D.'s task by calling for a much larger 
stretch of protected water. They wanted at least a mile of calm sea 
behind the major breakwater, and additional Bubble strips to safe- 
guard both the landing-craft lying off the open beaches and the ends 
of the special piers which the Army were designing. 

The news of the decision by the Combined Chiefs of Staff 
coincided with the depressing discovery that to keep in being a whole 
bubble harbour of this size at least one and a half million horse-power 
would be needed, perhaps every minute of the day and night. 

Lying in bed at his home near Haslemere, recovering from a bout 
of c flu,' Lochner could not drive the harbour and its problems 


from his mind. Failing a miracle, it now seemed that the Bubble 
Breakwater was not going to produce the answer. But where lay an 

He began to probe once again at the root of the matter. The plan- 
ners were calling for a simple and portable barrier to stop waves. 
What was the nature of a wave? 

The general idea was easy enough to grasp. Water was composed 
of small molecules which were capable of a certain amount of 
independent movement. Otherwise water would not fit into a glass. 
Tests in the experimental tank showed that the wave molecules 
moved on a circular path. But what precisely happened beneath the 
surface of the sea? Did an Atlantic roller roll all the way down to a 
thousand fathoms? 

No! Of course it didn't! How dense they had all been! The ordi- 
nary wave which buffets the bather loses most of its power at 12 feet. 
At 1 20 feet Atlantic rollers no longer worry the crew of a submarine. 

Jumping out of bed, he went to the attic. Rummaging about, he 
found an old buoyant rubber mattress a relic of peace-time holi- 
days at the seaside. He also found an iron bar, and, bending the 
mattress lengthways, he got his wife, Mary, to sew the two sides 
together, with the bar forming a rough-and-ready keel. 

They carried this strange object downstairs. At the foot of their 
garden in the little village of Hammer, on the Surrey and Hamp- 
shire border, was a pond, and, launching the weighted mattress there, 
they spent all the remaining hours of daylight up to their knees in the 
cold, weed-ridden waters of the pool. 

By nightfall Robert Lochner knew he had stumbled on a discovery 
which might revolutionize the whole approach to the problems of 
the Invasion Harbour. 

In addition to their preoccupation with the artificial harbour, the 
planners were also carefully examining countless ways and means of 
ensuring the complete success of the initial assault. One of these, on 
which much depended, was the counter-mining of the defended 

As early as 1941 tests had been made at Shoeburyness to discover 
the effect of exploding charges in the air or at ground-level against 
an anti-tank minefield. A year later Combined Operations H.Q. 
suggested that such charges might be fired from a weapon designed 
on the lines of the Hedgehog and mounted in a special type of 
landing-craft, and in the autumn of 1942 the Wheezers and Dodgers 
began work on the "Hedgerow." 

In the next twelve months they carried out extensive trials against 
enemy mines laid on the beaches near Birnbeck. As with the Hedge- 


hog, the vital factor in developing the Hedgerow projectile was the 
fuse. It had to be sufficiently robust not to actuate on contact with 
water at high velocity, but it had to be sensitive enough to go off on 
impact with the soft mud in which it eventually landed in the 
shallows close to the beach. 

After much experiment the Wheezers and Dodgers solved this 
problem by fitting the fuse with brass domes of varying thickness. 
The tolerance between the two limits was found to be very small, and 
hundreds of rounds had to be fired before the right answer was forth- 

The fuse itself was carried on a long stick which protruded from 
the nose of the projectile. When they retrieved the early rounds from 
the mud they found that many of the sticks were bent, suggesting 
violent impact with the ground. This should have set off the fuse, 
but, strangely enough, none of them had actuated. Eventually 
they discovered that the bending was caused not by the shock of the 
projectile's striking the sea-bed, but by a peculiar wobble which the 
Hedgerow bomb developed as it entered the water. They strengthened 
the stick, and after that they had no more trouble. 

To determine the counter-mining distances and the characteristics 
of the craters caused by the explosions Boswell and the team at Birn- 
beck staged trials against many different sizes and shapes of mine- 
field, both dry and submerged, and eventually D.M.W.D. were ready 
to build a pilot model of the Hedgerow installation. 

This had twenty-four spigots, mounted in two parallel lines just 
abaft the ramp of the tank-landing craft which housed them. The 
rounds were inclined at different angles on their spigot mountings, 
the steepest spigot commanding a range of 315 yards, while the one 
with the least elevation could hurl its projectile 475 yards. Guggen- 
heim estimated that a salvo of Hedgerow rounds would blast a path 
through an enemy minefield 120 yards long by 8 yards wide. 

The first firing trials, held off Hayling Island, were something of 
an anticlimax, for Combined Operations, who were responsible for 
the arrangements, looked up the tides for the wrong month, and the 
tank-landing-craft ran aground too far out! Consequently none of 
the rounds reached the beach. This contretemps had one practical 
result, however, for the idea of using tank-landing-craft was aban- 
doned in favour of the smaller L.C A. (assault landing-craft), which 
could approach closer to the shore. 

In March 1943 the pilot model of the Hedgerow was transferred 
to an L.C A, in Portsmouth Dockyard, and again they set off for the 
firing grounds off Hayling Island, accompanied by a technical 
expert from H.M.S. Vernon. On the way out they shipped a good 
deal of water. This short-circuited the electrical contacts, and the 


observer from the Vernon suggested calling off the trial. Trying out 
the new weapon with the installation saturated in sea-water was a 
hazard no one had bargained for, but time was precious, and 
Williamson decided to take the risk. Drying the electrical equipment 
as thoroughly as possible, they fired a full salvo. 

The Hedgerow in action presented an impressive and unusual 
sight. Each projectile weighed 60 pounds, and as they climbed 
clumsily into the sky they all seemed to be proceeding at grotesquely 
different angles to each other. The terrific concussion as they ex- 
ploded just above the beach not only set off the buried test mines; it 
threatened to paralyse any human being in the immediate vicinity. 

On board the L.C.A., however, there was an unexpected develop- 
ment. The thrust as the big projectiles left the deck caused wide- 
spread damage to the mountings, and cracks appeared in the hull of 
the boat. At the technical inquest which followed the Director of 
Naval Construction's advisers recommended elaborate strengthening 
of all future Hedgerow craft. 

The work was still in progress when an SOS came from the 
Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean. He had seen plans of the 
Hedgerow, and asked that five of these special craft should be made 
available for an important operation. It was then the middle of May, 
and the pilot model had fired precisely one salvo; Admiral Cunning- 
ham^ staff called for the delivery of five tried and tested craft, in 
fully operational condition, by June 15. It was a stiff proposition. 

The Wheezers and Dodgers were given a free hand, and William- 
son and his team toiled night and day. Helping him were Rivers- 
Bowerman, who had done yeoman work on the stick fuse; Duncan 
Bruce; Guggenheim, who supplied most of the advanced mathe- 
matical calculations; and Hdsby, who had devised the ingenious 
crushable brass cap in the nose of the projectile. 

An engineering firm at Egham, in Surrey, built the Hedgerows, 
and in exactly four weeks to the day a whole complex chain of 
developments had been completed. The pilot model had been re- 
designed, five Hedgerows had been made and tested in their specially 
strengthened assault craft, and H.M.S. Vernon had trained the crews 
who were to man them. 

It was a remarkable achievement, but unhappily this technical 
efficiency was not matched by administrative foresight elsewhere. No 
adequate instructions for the reception of the Hedgerow craft 
reached the Mediterranean, and a series of disasters befell them. 

In North Africa the L.C.A/S were recognized as familiar craft, 
but no one, apparently, had heard of the new weapon they mounted. 
So the trained crews were removed and drafted to other duties; the 
equipment, installed with such urgency, was stripped from the boats, 


and when at last some one discovered the significance of the Hedge- 
row mountings only two of the five installations were retrieved. 
Nobody realized that the craft had to be specially strengthened to 
stand the stresses and strains involved, and the shipwrights at Algiers, 
who had no blueprints to work from, laboriously reassembled the 
spigots, mountings, and the maze of electrical wiring in unstiffened 
boats. To complete this unhappy catalogue of blunders the Sub- 
Lieutenant R.N. who was placed in command of the two ill-starred 
Hedgerow craft L.C.A. 446 and L.C.A. 403 for the Salerno 
landing was provided with new crews who had no knowledge of the 
weapon at all! He discovered, too, that the Hedgerow rounds he 
embarked at Djidjelli had been submerged in five feet of water for a 
considerable time in the hold of an ammunition vessel. 

On August 29 the Sub-Lieutenant held his first and only firing 
practice. It was a chastening experience. On board L.C.A. 446 the 
beams supporting the spigot mountings instantly split apart, and the 
sides of the craft opened up. She sank almost immediately in the 
rough waters of Bizerta Bay, and L.C.A. 403 only just managed to 
struggle back into harbour. This left only the one Hedgerow landing- 
craft to take part in the invasion of Italy's mainland. 

At zero hour 0330 on the morning of September 9 L.C.A. 403 
went into action forty yards from Red Beach in Salerno Bay. 

No sooner had the first salvo been fired from the Hedgerow than 
they found that the mountings had split again. This severed the 
firing leads to the forward spigots, and half the projectiles were now 
out of action. 

Under heavy fire the crew worked frantically for forty minutes 
with insulating tape and spare cable, and managed to join up all but 
two of the mountings. Then, in the half-light of approaching dawn, 
the L.C.A. headed in towards Salerno town. Here again they came 
under heavy shellfire, so the remaining salvo was aimed at the har- 
bour. Such damage had been done to the firing circuit and the 
spigot girders, however, that six of the projectiles f ailed to leave their 
mountings, and the rest all fell within thirty yards of the boat. 

They could do no more, but, anxious to discover the effect of the 
one salvo he had fired successfully, the Sub-Lieutenant landed and 
made his way to Red Beach. Over an area of ninety yards he 
counted the unmistakable craters of twenty-three Hedgerow bombs. 
The last six had exploded right in the centre of a dense minefield 
laid in bullrushes and scrub eighty yards from the water's edge, and 
had cleared a wide path for the advancing troops. 

In the Admiralty the potentialities of the Hedgerow were quickly 
realized. Its failure in the Mediterranean, in craft entirely unsuitable 
for it, had been inevitable; properly handled, the new weapon could 


obviously play an important part in the greater invasion which lay 

The Wheezers and Dodgers now set to work to improve its per- 
formance. Alterations were made to the elevation of the spigots, new 
projectiles were designed, and the mountings were further streng- 
thened to take the thrust of more powerful ammunition. 

In the invasion of Normandy the Hedgerow flotillas were des- 
tined to encounter difficulties and hazards of a different nature, but 
the story of their intervention in Operation Overlord must be told 
in a later chapter. 

From the moment that the department became recognized as the 
authority on miscellaneous weapons D.M.W.D. were called upon to 
examine all manner of strange ideas for prosecuting the war. Some 
had a sound scientific basis, and if they seemed likely to meet a press- 
ing Admiralty requirement they were eagerly explored. Often, how- 
ever, the suggestions reached so far into the realms of fantasy that no 
serious appraisal was possible. 

The cranks who found their way to Lower Regent Street or the 
Wheezers and Dodgers* subsequent home in Leicester Square could 
be roughly sorted into two categories. 

The "Solidified Searchlight" school rarely brought any explana- 
tory documents. They presented the department with "just the basic 
idea . . . you'll easily be able to work out the details." With them the 
Idea was the thing, and putting it into practice was always a "mere 
matter of research and development." 

The rival school went to the other extreme. They arrived with a 
formidable array of drawings, intricate calculations, and other data, 
often supported by voluminous correspondence with various- Minis- 
tries, which had, apparently, already rejected their weapons or 
devices. Such setbacks rardy seemed to discourage them. 

At the time of the Blitz a plan was presented in all seriousness for 
the building of an enormous Anti-aircraft Mountain, thousands of 
feet high, in Kent. From this, its sponsor explained, gunners would 
be able to shoot down the highest-flying bombers raiding London! 
And at various times plans came to D.M.W.D. for a space-ship; a 
gun for merchant vessels which squirted columns of water at 
approaching aircraft, presumably with the object of drowning the 
pilot in mid-air; and a weird and wonderful machine for manufac- 
turing artificial tidal waves in the Pacific. Its inventor claimed that 
this would disorganize the Japanese defence system by washing all 
their outlying garrisons off the smaller coral atolls ! 

While the invasion scare was still alive in the war's early days 
Goodf eflow produced for the entertainment of the department some 


drawings of a splendid dual-purpose contraption. This was a 
"Rocket Guide Rail," which would enable the Home Guard to fire 
2-inch projectiles from the shoulder but its great merit, as he 
gravely explained, lay in the fact that it could subsequently be used 
as a pike! 

It was Goodfellow, incidentally, who alarmed the highest Defence 
circles during that same period by calculating that the Germans 
could, if they wished, build two Channel Tunnels in a matter of 
eighteen months if they used slave labour. As a result he was asked 
to prepare a memorandum on the various means available to the 
enemy for disposing of the soil. Before long rumour had it that 
advanced units of the German Army were busily burrowing their 
way towards Romney Marshes ! 

For the serious inventor war offered an opportunity and a chal- 
lenge. In Britain, however, it was often impossible to experiment on 
a grand scale owing to dire shortage of materials. On his first war- 
time visit to America Goodeve was astounded at the contrasting con- 
ditions in which research and development was carried on. 

Arriving in Detroit, he paid a courtesy call on the great American 
inventor Charles F. Kettering, who was directing the Research Divi- 
sion of the vast General Motors organization. Kettering, renowned in 
his own country as a second Edison, welcomed him warmly, and 
then delivered a trenchant lecture on the iniquities of scientists ! 

"What we need to win this war is more inventors," he declared 
bluntly. "All scientists ought to be torpedoed!" He then went on 
to discuss with Goodeve a remarkable project which he was develop- 
ing on his own initiative. It involved the mass production of remote- 
controlled aircraft, each of which would carry 1000 pounds of explo- 
sive, and, to Goodeve's astonishment, he found that these had been 
already built in their hundreds. They were parked in serried rows 
in building after building, and even overflowed into the car-park 

Kettering explained that they could be turned out at the rate of 
one every minute. The engines were internal-combustion motors of 
simple design, and the wings were ingeniously made of hard, rolled 
sheet steel. Technically, this was a considerable achievement, for no 
aluminium was required and aluminium was then a rare and 
precious commodity. 

Kettering envisaged a non-stop bombardment with his robot 
'planes which would bring Germany to her knees. Pointing to a map, 
he declared that a vast underground factory could easily be set up in 
Kent, the raw materials for manufacturing the aircraft and their 
bombs being fed down vertical shafts. As these expendable robots were 
completed at the rate of one every minute they would take off 


up a sloping runway, and fly out from the cliff-side towards 

His small 'planes embodied a variety of control methods. Some, 
he explained, would fly straight. Some would zigzag. After a given 
time some would seek out their targets by using infra-red rays. Any 
large city emits infra-red radiations particularly in winter, when 
buildings are heated and Kettering planned to turn this to advan- 
tage in homing his pilotless bombers. 

Already he had tested the flying performance of his aircraft at a 
secret experimental station in the desert, and he had taken elaborate 
steps to defeat any possible counter-measures adopted by the enemy. 

At dinner that night the man who had invented self-starting, light- 
ing, and ignition systems for motor-cars before the First World War 
talked with boyish enthusiasm of many other projects just as ambi- 
tious as his bomber fleet. On his own responsibility Kettering had 
already spent millions of dollars on developing various controlled 
devices. As it happened, the rapid expansion of orthodox bombing, 
which enabled a far heavier load of explosive to be directed at enemy 
targets, removed the need for his ingenious robots. But Goodeve was 
often to recall with envy the freedom which America's wealth in 
material and technical resources gave to her inventors. He remem- 
bered Kettering's ''doodle bugs' too when the first German flying 
bombs began to fall on London. It was the enemy Vi's which led to 
one of Goodeve's strangest encounters with an inventor. 

One morning, when he was presiding over a joint-Services meeting 
in the Admiralty, he received a message that a Very Important 
Person in the Whitehall hierarchy wished to see him immediately. 
He walked along the passage to the great man's room, and there he 
was introduced to a stranger a civilian who, he gathered, was an 
engineer from the North. 

"Mr Blank has an idea which I'd like you to look at, Goodeve," 
said the Great Man. "It's a counter-measure to these flying bombs. 
Would you take him along to your room and let him show you the 
details? Unfortunately I have to preside over a meeting in a few 
minutes' time, so I can't come along myself, but I'd like a report as 
soon as possible." 

Goodeve thought regretfully of his own meeting. Plainly that 
would have to go by the board now. 

He led the way to his office, and his visitor, opening a bulging 
briefcase, extracted a mass of papers which he spread all over the 

"It's really quite simple," he remarked. "You know the barrage 

Goodeve said he did. 


" Well, then," went on the visitor, "you send up hundreds of those 
balloons across the normal route of the flying bombs, and to the 
cable of each you connect this apparatus of mine. It consists of a 
cylinder of oxygen joined to a small benzine tank by an electro- 
magnetic release valve. On the other side of the benzine tank is a 
bath containing a soap solution. Do I make myself clear ? " 

"Perfectly," said Goodeve. "Please go on." He was thinking of 
his meeting; it must be nearly over now, and he wondered whether 
some one was taking a full note for him to read through as soon as 
he was free. 

"Now we come to the crux of the whole scheme. The mixture 
finally emerges into the air in a series of huge bubbles " 

Goodeve came out of his reverie with a start. "I'm afraid I don't 
quite see what these bubbles of yours can do to destroy the flying 
bombs," he said a little sharply. 

"Come now, Dr Goodeve!" chided the inventor. "Surely it must 
be obvious. Over come the flying bombs, and as they pass they suck 
my bubbles into their intake system. Immediately the bombs will 
explode in mid-air." 

For a moment Goodeve remained speechless. He had left a vital 
conference to waste time on a project which had no basis of scientific 
probability whatever. But then he relented. The inventor was so 
obviously in earnest that it would be unkind to dash his hopes there 
and then. Instead Goodeve thanked him politely. 

"It's an interesting theory. I'd like to consult some of my col- 
leagues about your apparatus," he said. "Perhaps you'd let me have 
your address?" 

When Goodeve sought to dispose of the matter, however, he found 
himself in a quandary. The Soap Bubble Scheme was far too ludi- 
crous to send to any Admiralty department for their comments; 
indeed, it hardly concerned the Admiralty in any case. But the Great 
Man was interested in it, and had asked him to vet the idea. Obvi- 
ously it would have to be treated sympathetically. 

After pondering for several days he had a brainwave, and dic- 
-tated a letter to the inventor thanking him warmly for the public 
spirit he had shown in bringing his scheme to the notice of the Royal 

I would, however, like to point out [he continued] that flying 
bombs are themselves propelled by a series of explosions far more 
violent than would be created by the introduction of your bubbles. 
What your scheme would, in fact, achieve is a refuelling of the bombs 
in flight, and here you may well have hit upon a most important 
discovery. If you can increase the strength of your mixture it may 
be possible to accelerate the flight and range of the bombs so con- 


siderably that they will pass right over London and land in the 
open country beyond. I am convinced that you should reconsider 
your idea in this fight, and then put it up again to the Air Ministry, 
not the Admiralty. 

A day or two later the inventor rang up Goodeve. "That letter 
you wrote to me," he began cautiously. "I believe you are pulling my 

"Why should you think that?" parried Goodeve. 

" Well ... I think you are." 

"In that case," Goodeve remarked, with a chuckle, "I wouldn't 
feel disposed to contradict you." 

The conversation ended quite amicably. And after that no more 
was ever heard of the Great Soap Bubble Scheme for countering 
Hitler's secret weapon. 


"ir TT TTE must now return to the problem on which the fate of the 
%/%/ forthcoming invasion hinged. The creation of an artificial 

y f harbour was imperative for reasons which will shortly be 
explained, but the full magnitude of the task facing the COSSAC 
planners can only be appreciated if the unusual conditions prevail- 
ing in the Baie de la Seine are borne in mind. 

The enemy had had four years in which to make their coastline 
secure against attack. They had had four years to plan the complete 
destruction of every port on the Channel shore which might con- 
ceivably be used by invaders. In other waters this might not have 
been an insuperable obstacle, but the Channel was a very different 
proposition. Admittedly the statistics showed that bad weather was 
rarely encountered in June the month chosen for the landings but 
the risk of trying to sustain the greatest amphibious assault in history 
over open beaches in the Baie de la Seine was too appalling to 

At least 5000 ships would be involved. The proposed assault front 
ran for nearly fifty miles, and with a wind anywhere between North- 
east or North-west the chosen beaches would form a dead lee shore. 
Not only would bad weather make it impossible to unload from the 
landing-craft, D.U.K.W.'s, and Rhino ferries now being built for this 
task, but such small craft some 4000 of them would be unable to 
retire to the safety of their bases in England, a hundred miles away. 
Indeed, with such a long front it was not certain that these small craft 
would even get sufficient warning of an approaching gale to enable 
them to reach any sanctuary available on the French side of the 

When the planners came to consider the form of protection needed 
for the invasion fleet they ran up against an immediate technical 
difficulty. As a report to the Admiralty stated bluntly, "Nothing 
favoured the choice of this coast for the construction of artificial 
harbours." The rise and fall of the tide was exceptional as much 
as 24 feet at spring tides. Any breakwater based in 30 feet of water 


at low tide would consequently have to be 54 feet tall to reach the 
surface at high water. 

In peace-time, with all supplies at hand and no hostile action to 
hinder construction, it had taken seven years to build the harbour at 
Dover. Now, in vastly different and less favourable conditions, the 
Allies had to find a way of laying down two much larger prefabri- 
cated harbours each the size of Gibraltar in little over a fort- 

The broad concept of Mulberry Harbour 1 eventually embraced 
an outer breakwater, an inner one composed of huge concrete 
caissons called Phoenix units, which could be towed across the 
Channel and sunk by opening release valves, and a series of floating 
piers 'Whales, 9 they were named running out from the beach to 
pier-heads, at which ships could berth and unload their cargoes 
into lorries. These pier-heads were mounted on stilt-like legs, and 
were designed to rise and fall with the tide. Here Churchill's aston- 
ishing prescience was shown. As early as May 30, 1942, he had 
written a minute often quoted since to the Chief of Combined 
Operations in which he predicted the very shape of these ingenious 
mechanical monsters: "They must float up and down with the tide. 

The anchor problem must be mastered Let me have the best 

solution worked out Don't argue the matter. The difficulties will 

argue for themselves." 2 

More remarkable still, incidentally, was Churchill's anticipation 
of the need for concrete caissons. In July 1917 he had suggested in 
a memorandum to Lloyd George the construction of "a number of 
flat-bottomed barges or caissons, made not of steel but of concrete," 
which would float when empty of water and could be towed across 
and sunk off the Horns Reef : " By this means a torpedo- and weather- 
proof harbour, like an atoll, would be created in the open sea. 933 

For the inner breakwater and harbour there was, therefore, at least 
a line of thought to pursue, but at the time when Robert Lochner 
began puzzling once again over the behaviour of waves the planners 
of Operation Overlord, who had already visualized the need for an 
outer breakwater to protect the Mulberry Harbours, were still 
uncertain of the form this would take. By April 1943 it appeared 

The originator of the detailed Mulberry Harbour plan was Vice-Admiral 
John Hughes-Hallett, C.B., D.S.O., who in April 1943 was serving as an addi- 
tional Chief of Staff to C.-in-C. Portsmouth in the rank of Commodore. Admiral 
Hughes-Hallett retired from the Royal Navy in 1954, and shortly afterwards 
became Conservative M.P. for East Croydon. 

* Sir Winston Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. IV, The Hinge of Fate 
(Cassell, 1951), p. 66. 

1 The memorandum was prepared in connexion with a scheme for the capture 
of the Friesian Islands of Borkum and Sylt. (See Churchill's Second World War, 
VoL II, pp. 215-216.) 


very doubtful whether the Bubble Barrier would be a feasible propo- 
sition. The sudden realization, however, that waves only exerted their 
force over a relatively short depth seemed to Lochner to alter the 
whole situation. 

What they needed was some sort of wall in the sea which need not 
be carried right down to the sea-bed; it had only to extend to the 
point where the waves lost their energy. Therefore they must build a 
floating wall. 

So far, so good. But walls do not normally float! So in the first 
place this would have to be a very unusual kind of wall, and, to make 
matters more complicated, it would have to remain permanently 
stationary or, if it moved at all, it must move only laterally, expand- 
ing and contracting with the waves, whose force it would cushion. 
The top of the wall must, obviously, stay in the same place. 

It was when he had reached this stage in reasoning out the prob- 
lem that Lochner thought of the Lilo mattress. As soon as his wife 
had sewn on the metal keel they launched it in the pond, and Mary 
Lochner began making miniature waves with the lid of a biscuit-tin. 
The experiments eventually came to an abrupt end when she lost her 
balance and fell head-first into the water, but by then Robert Loch- 
ner had seen enough to know that he was on the right lines. As soon 
as he got back to the Admiralty he drew up plans for more accurate 
models. When these were tested in the City and Guilds' tank they 
showed dearly enough that the principle was fundamentally sound. 
A floating barrier would suppress waves. 

It was an exciting discovery. In one bound the Wheezers and 
Dodgers had, apparently, eliminated all the machinery, the pipes, 
and the huge ships which would have been needed to operate the 
Bubble Breakwater. 

In D.M.W.D. a period of intense activity followed. By July the 
mathematical theory had been evolved, over a hundred experiments 
with models had been carried out, and the floating dock at Ports- 
mouth had been cleared, ready for full-scale construction. 

It was very much a team job. Penney and Price, from London 
University, tackled the mathematical side; Urwin went off to the 
Admiralty Experimental Establishment at Haslar to conduct further 
model experiments, and Guggenheim analysed the results. One of 
the big taiiks at Haslar was 900 feet long, and it had mechanism for 
producing 3-foot waves. Urwin was glad when the job was over, for 
the water had not been changed for a long time, and recovering the 
models from the noisome depths was not as simple as it looked. 

When construction of the full-scale prototypes began Lochner 
went to the Balloon Development Establishment of MA.P. for 
advice on the preparation of the vast air-bags which would be 





















An impression by Give Uptton. 
By pemiuian of "John Bwll" 


needed to support the floating wall. It was his first experience of 
dealing with the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and he was greatly 
impressed. There was a spirit of urgency, a liveness about the organi- 
zation, inspired by Beaverbrook's leadership in the war's early days, 
and D.M.W.D. were given all the co-operation they wanted. 

It was Nixon, one of Beaverbrook's key men on the Balloon Bar- 
rage side of the Ministry, who found the men and the materials, and 
Bateman, a designer of balloons at Cardington, brought his consider- 
able knowledge to bear on this strange marine object. Then Dunlops 
were chosen to build the vast, flexible rubber bags, and Dr Oscar 
Faber, a well-known consulting engineer, joined the D.M.W.D. team 
to design the reinforced-concrete keels which would weigh down 
these great sea balloons. A new code word began to appear in the 
progress reports reaching the Overlord planners, for the floating 
breakwater was given the title of "Lilo." 

All was not plain sailing. There were plenty of critics ready to 
suggest that a skin of fabric less than one-eighth of an inch thick 
would never stand up to the task assigned for it. It was generally 
recognized, however, that Lilo offered greater possibilities than the 
Bubble barrier. Experiments still continued with the Bubble Harbour 
apparatus, but in D.M.W.D. and other quarters opinion was gradu- 
ally veering away from the conception of waves tamed by nothing 
more substantial than bubbles, particularly in view of the immense 
power which would have to be generated. 

Lochner was confident that they were now working on the right 
lines. At the same time he still had a nagging feeling that the basic 
design might be improved. He was worried about the obvious vulner- 
ability of the fabric sides of the breakwater under construction. If 
only he could dispense with them it would be a great step forward. 
When he got home in the evenings he would fill the bath and experi- 
ment with different shapes 1 of rigid-sided models. The results were 
not immediately encouraging, but he kept on trying. 

The three full-sized Lilos over which workmen swarmed in the dock 
at Portsmouth during the month of August were unlike any floating 
object ever seen. They were 200 feet long and 12 feet wide. The 
gigantic air-bags were divided into three compartments, running the 
full length of the Lilo and separated from each other by canvas walls 
proofed with rubber. 

The keel consisted of a hollow tube of reinforced concrete 8 feet 
in diameter, and when flooded with water it weighed 750 tons. The 
tube could, however, be pumped out quite easily, and then it floated 
without any assistance from its rubber envelope. A sunken Lalo could 
in fact be raised merely by attaching an air-pipe. 

It was intended to inflate the massive sea balloons just enough to 


balance the external water-pressure at various depths. Any increase 
in the pressure from the waves on one side of the bag would cause 
it to yield on that side, thereby preventing transmission of the wave 
motion through the Lilo. 

The army of workers in the floating dock were baffled by the 
grotesque thing they were creating. They guessed that it had some- 
thing to do with the Second Front so stridently demanded in crude 
lettering on walls and hoardings. Its purpose they were unable to 
decide, but they were unanimous on one point it would never float ! 

While the prototypes were being built there was much activity in 
other directions. Possible sites for the Mulberry Harbours were 
being examined for wave analysis; talks were taking place with the 
mooring experts to determine the best method of securing long lines 
of floating objects close together off a lee shore; and patiently Robert 
Lochner was continuing his experiments with small rigid-sided 
model breakwaters. By now he was beginning to get results. 

By the middle of that month the Prime Minister was in Canada, 
and the British and American planning staffs summoned to the 
"Quadrant" Conference were working together on the problems of 
Overlord. Suddenly word reached the Admiralty that a team fully 
conversant \vith the progress of Bubble Harbour and the floating 
breakwater was to fly to Quebec immediately. They would form part 
of a "British Extemporized Artificial Harbours Committee" which, 
under the leadership of Brigadier Sir Harold Wernher,, was to take 
part in the Staff talks. 

Before setting out for Prestwick Lochner told Byng to proceed 
with tests of a new rigid-sided breakwater conceived from the experi- 
ments in the bath. With Lochner on the journey north were Penney, 
Faber, Nixon, and Bateman. At the transatlantic air terminal they 
were joined by Sir Harold Wernher and two leading War Office 
champions of the Whale Piers, Brigadifcr Bruce White and Major 

It was an uncomfortable journey. In the bomb bay of the Libera- 
tor the noise was deafening. No one was allowed to smoke, and 
reading was an impossibility. There was nothing to do but lie on one's 
back on a hard, narrow straw mattress and wonder what fresh prob- 
lems lay ahead. After eighteen hours they landed in Montreal, and 
transhipped into a Dakota for the final stage of the journey. 

When they reached Quebec and drove to the CMteau Frontenac 
they found, to their dismay, that a meeting on Artificial Harbours 
was due to start in precisely fifteen minutes. Sleepless and unshaven, 
they grabbed their papers and plunged into technical conflict with 
a large American contingent of Army and Naval officers on the 
building of Mulberry. 


To the surprise of the British team the plan put forward by the 
Americans centred on the use of sunken Liberty ships to form the 
outer breakwater. It soon became evident, however, that they had 
based their calculations on a rise and fall of tide of only eighteen 
feet, and when this error was pointed out they immediately saw that 
this was impracticable. In addition to up-to-date facts about tidal 
conditions much of the information brought by the newly arrived 
party from London came as a complete surprise to the U.S. planners. 
Whale piers were a novel proposition; so were floating breakwaters. 
Lochner had brought with him cine-films of the Lilo model experi- 
ments, and he gave two lectures first to the Mulberry planning 
staffs; then, under Admiral Mountbatten's sponsorship, to a distin- 
guished and critical gathering which included the British and 
American Chiefs of Staff. Always new ideas, the Ameri- 
cans were keenly interested. 

Various sub-committees were formed, each one charged with 
examining a particular aspect of the Mulberry project logistics, the 
design and construction of piers and breakwaters, and physical fac- 
tors. Gradually the Invasion Harbour took shape. 

The Prime Minister himself was anxious to hear about 
D.M.W.D.'s researches, and he took the chair at a meeting in the 
Citadel at which Lochner again described the principle of Lilo. 

The Staff talks then switched to Washington, and for the next 
fortnight the small D.M.W.D. team worked as hard as any of them 
had ever worked before. The routine was always the same: a call 
at 6.30 A.M. ; the first meeting in the War Department at 8.30 ; lunch 
snatched in the canteen, followed by further conferences. At 6 P.M. 
they returned to their hotel for an early dinner, and then had a final 
working session at which the day's progress was reviewed and 
preparation was made for the morrow's programme. 

On his last day in America Robert Lochner was summoned to the 
White House to give a twenty-minute talk on the floating break- 
water to the Prime Minister and President Roosevelt. A signal had 
arrived stating that the tests on the rigid-sided models put in hand 
before the departure from England had proved successful. At this 
stage, however, Churchill was still intrigued with the possibility that 
the spectacular experiments with pipes and compressed air might yet 
yield results, and before Lochner began his talk he inquired a little 
aggrievedly, "What about my bubbles?" Lochner was loath to 
disillusion him with a description of the constant setbacks D.M.W.D. 
had encountered over Bubble Harbour, and, to his relief, General 
Ismay intervened, remarking tactfully that the trials were still in- 

That night a signal went to England. It was from the Combined 


Chiefs of Staff, and announced that Mulberry was to be a British 
responsibility. There were to be two main harbours, each formed from 
a combination of blockships, concrete caissons, and floating break- 
waters. Each was to have Whale piers, and the production of these 
and the concrete caissons was to be a War Office responsibility. The 
Admiralty, on the other hand, was to be responsible for the block- 
ships, the floating breakwaters, and the safe passage of the compo- 
nent parts of both harbours to the French coast. 

A few hours after this message had been dispatched from the 
Quadrant Conference the Lilo team were heading out over the 
Atlantic for England. They arrived home to find that the first two 
full-sized floating breakwaters were nearing completion, but other 
more momentous news awaited them. The latest tests of the rigid 
models had exceeded all expectations. 

They were thus confronted with an anxious decision. Should they 
go ahead with the sea balloons? Or should they stake everything on 
an equally untried floating monster made of steel? Whatever they 
decided, it would be too late to change their plans again if they were 
proved wrong. In less than six months the breakwaters would have 
to be ready for their final trials. 

Although projects connected with Mulberry Harbour were claim- 
ing chief attention in the department, the Wheezers and Dodgers 
had many other tasks afoot. 

Experiments were being carried out with two formidable explosive 
devices called "Bookrest" and Tureen"; there were trials of a mat 
for passing troops across soft mud; work was beginning on a "Store- 
carrying Rocket," which in its early stages behaved as eccentrically 
as the Panjandrum; and different types of diff -scaling gear were 
undergoing rigorous tests. 

Bookrest, originally developed to dear spaces in the dense jungle 
which came right down to the river banks in Burma, consisted of a 
long canvas hosepipe filled with plastic explosive. To the end of the 
hose was damped a huge rocket, which rushed from its resting-place 
in the bows of an L.C.T. towing several hundred feet of hose behind 
it. When it fell ashore the explosive in the hosepipe 1700 pounds 
of it was then detonated by remote control. 

At every stage of its evolution hair-raising incidents occurred. 
Cooke used to fill the canvas hose by pouring in the explosive and 
ramming it tight with a kitchen mangle. Quite early on in the trials 
he discovered that it had to be treated with some caution, for a 
premature explosion on the beach at Saunton nearly wrecked the 
house of the local Naval Officer in Charge. 

It was thought that the device might be useful for mine-dearance, 


so exhaustive trials were carried out against mines buried at various 
depths in wet sand or beneath shallow water. The first time Kleman- 
taski filmed these experiments he emerged from the cover of a Sher- 
man tank on the beach to find the surface of the sea covered with 
shoals of apparently dead fish. He and Cooke were returning to 
London that night, and the opportunity was too good to be missed. 
They borrowed a large basket, and, cramming it full of fish, they 
carried it to the station. 

It was a warm summer evening, and an obliging restaurant-car 
attendant suggested that the fish would keep fresher if they were 
tipped into a basin in the bar attached to the coach. Unf ortunately > 
however, the fish were only stunned, and in the cold water they 
quickly came to life. Soon all service in the restaurant car was 
brought to a stop, for the bar and the passageway became strewn 
with convalescent bream and pollack, leaping and squirming in all 
directions. Whenever Bookrest reaped a similar harvest after that the 
Wheezers and Dodgers distributed the victims locally ! 

The chief drawback of Bookrest as a device for mounting on board 
ship was, once again, the unpredictability of the rockets. There was 
always the danger of back-blast, which might imperil the landing- 
craft itself, and it was difficult to find a sure method of securing the 
rockets to the hose. 

Tureen, a similar device, suffered from the same defects. In this 
case the hose was fired ashore empty, and then a liquid explosive was 
pumped through it by compressed air. No one was particularly 
happy about handling this highly temperamental mixture, and Eades 
had a nerve-racking experience when demonstrating it to a group of 
senior officers. 

The explosive itself was stored in large rubber bottles, and as on 
this occasion he had to transfer it into a tall metal container he stood 
on a ladder and the bottles were passed up to him. The fumes soon 
made him dizzy, and he was only half-way through his task when a 
loud sizzling sound was heard. 

His entire audience wisely took to their heels, but Eades, reflecting 
that he was too close to the explosive to have any chance of escape, 
if, indeed, it was on the point of detonation, remained in lonely 
isolation at the top of his ladder, and continued to pour in the 
remainder of the liquid. 

To his vast relief the sizzling noise suddenly ceased, and one by 
one the spectators reappeared to congratulate him on his sangfroid. 
Not long afterwards a barge laden with the same substance blew up 
without any warning or apparent reason in the harbour of a South 
Coast town, tearing the end off the pier and causing heavy casualties. 

Tureen was eventually ruled tod hazardous to be put into naval 


service, but a somewhat similar device was later destined to be used 
ashore by Canadian troops in order to clear a quick passage through 
a rubble-strewn street. In point of fact, the very reverse occurred, 
however, for when the hose went into action all the buildings still 
standing on either side of the street promptly collapsed inwards, 
rendering it impassable ! 

The Store-carrying Rocket apparatus consisted of a large con- 
tainer which was towed into the air from a special ramp by a num- 
ber of 2-inch rockets. Having climbed to its zenith, the container was 
supposed to float gently to earth on a parachute. Strictly speaking, 
the development of this device is outside the province of this story, for 
most of the work took place after D-Day, but early on Richardson 
and Boswell watched a memorable trial on the south side of Brean 
Down. When the firing key was pressed the only immediate sign of 
activity was a feeble puff of smoke from one rocket. Then the con- 
tainer began to crawl laboriously up the ramp. It tottered on the 
brink, and fell to the beach with a thud. As it struck the ground, 
however, all the remaining rockets went off at once, and with the 
drag of the container on the sand most of them wrenched free from 
their clamps. 

Boswell and Richardson, a long way off across the dunes, and well 
out of the expected line of flight, spent a very unpleasant couple of 
minutes face downward in the sand, three rockets screaming out of 
the sky to bury themselves only yards away. 

After this the Store-carrying Rocket was treated with great respect 
by the Wheezers and Dodgers, and Duncan Bruce was all the more 
astonished when some American naval officers temporarily attached 
to H.M.S. Birnbeck suggested that it might be a good idea to see if 
a human being could be projected in the container. 

"That's quite out of the question," said Bruce firmly. "He'd 
never stand the degree of G involved." 

The Americans looked most disappointed. "I guess you know best, 
Commander," said their spokesman, "but we've got a man here 
who's all set to go !" 

At Birnbeck experiments were also carried out with equipment for 
Pluto, the giant cross-Channel pipeline. 1 D.M.W.D. came into this 
project because the Petroleum Warfare staff needed sea trials in 
order to find out how the pipe would unwind. Captain J, F. Hutch- 
ings, R.N., was attached to the Wheezers and Dodgers to take charge 
of the pipeline's tests afloat, and the design side of D.M.W.D. made 
special marker buoys fitted with a mechanism which would bring 
them to the surface at a predetermined time. 

1 The code name was taken from the initial letters of "Pipe Line Under The 


With the invasion date coming ever nearer, and pressure of work 
increasing all the time, many of D.M.W.D.'s specialists found them- 
selves roped in to help with jobs outside their normal sphere. An 
example of this was Donald Currie, the camouflage expert, who 
spent some time scouring London for a suitable canvas cover for 
Pluto. He eventually found what he wanted in a shop in the Old 
Kent Road which seemed to supply almost everything, including 
particularly fine ropes of Italian hemp, which, he learned regretfully, 
were not for sale. They had already been reserved for the Public 

Perhaps the most important of the department's ancillary tasks at 
this time was the development of cliff-scaling gear. Long before 
serious preparation for the invasion began Combined Operations had 
called for a device which would throw a grapnel on to the top of a 
cliff 200 feet high, trailing a rope which the Commandos could 
use to climb to the headland. This request was passed to Norway 
for investigation. 

Immediately he thought of the P.A.C. rocket. Designed to carry a 
line in precisely the same way, it needed only a grapnel head to bite 
into the ground on the cliff -top, and a suitable launching tripod. 

Plans were soon prepared, and when the rocket was fitted with a 
four-pronged grapnel and 500 feet of stout climbing rope it func- 
tioned perfectly. At the north-east corner of Portland Bill they found 
a suitable cliff to experiment on, and there D.M.W.D. gave a demon- 
stration to a party of Commando officers. In quite a short time half 
a dozen ropes were dangling down the cliff-face, and ready to be 
climbed, but the Commando officers powerfully built, broad- 
shouldered, and athletic young men showed only mild interest. 

One or two of them were persuaded to climb to the cliff -top, but 
when Norway asked af terwards if they wanted the device to be put 
into production they said cautiously that that was probably a matter 
for their commanding General. They would have to go back and 
write out a report. No doubt, they said, D.M.W.D. would hear more 
in due course. 

Eventually the Wheezers and Dodgers were informed that, while 
the Rocket Grapnel was considered very interesting, it was now felt 
that in actual assault it would be preferable to capture such positions 
by landing airborne troops on the cliff-head. The Rocket Grapnel 
was therefore put on the shelf, and for a time D.M.W.D. forgot all 
about it. Several months later, however, Menhinick had occasion to 
visit Freshwater, in the Isle of Wight, and, to his surprise, he found 
a party of Commandos laboriously scaling a high cliff. 

They had with them a Swiss guide, dressed in British Army uni- 


form, and his job, apparently, was to climb the cliff first, with the 
assistance of an ice-axe, and carry up a rope which could be made 
fast at the top. 

Menhinick asked innocently why they were not using the Rocket 
Grapnel, and when he explained how it worked the Commandos said 
they thought it was a marvellous idea. Why, they asked, had no one 
ever told them about it? The discarded apparatus was therefore re- 
claimed from the store, and a team which included Byng, Men- 
hinick, and Eades held a series of trials near Beachy Head. First of 
all they fired up a wire bridle and a rope with loops for hand- and 
foot-holds. Then they experimented with a more ambitious version 
a so-foot rope ladder under which hung 300 feet of doubled line. 
Seated in a bowline, the climber could be hauled up as far as the 
ladder by men on the beach below. 

Menhinick and Eades used to paddle out to sea in a dory which 
had a small rocket projector clamped to its side. They found it safest 
to lie flat on their faces when the rockets went off, but it was quite 
a feat to move at all in the boat, most of the space being taken up by 
two huge Schennuly line boxes, with the rope coiled on a series of 

Inevitably there were minor mishaps. On one occasion the 
Wheezers and Dodgers put a rocket through the bedroom window of 
a cottage near the cliff-top. On another, Menhinick was trying out 
the bowline at Birling Gap when he got his battledress caught fast in 
the block at the foot of the rope ladder. And. there he hung, a hun- 
dred feet up the cliff-face and unable to move in any direction. He 
was out of sight of the team below, but by a chance in a million he 
was spotted by a U.S. film cameraman suspended in a bosun's chair 
and taking pictures further along the cliff. The latter signalled to the 
beach party, and the exhausted Menhinick was cut free. The most 
spectacular incident occurred, however, when the Rocket Grapnel 
was almost at the end of its trials and ready for service. 

In April 1944 a demonstration was staged for Brigadier Lord 
Lovat at Tennyson Down, in the Isle of Wight. This time Byng, Men- 
hinick, and Eades all went out in the dory, which was then anchored 
by the stern some distance off shore. They fired the first rocket, and 
when the grapnel had safely engaged Byng volunteered to make the 
initial ascent. 

Grasping the rope, he stepped off the bow, but there was a slight 
lop on the water, and as he had forgotten to allow for the slack in 
the line he disappeared instantly below the surface, only his cap 
remaining in sight. A second or two later he came up, coughing and 
spluttering; but, undismayed, he then began the long climb from the 
sea to the headland. 


By the time he had got half-way the amount of sea-water he had 
swallowed on top of a lobster lunch began to tell on him, and he was 
almost at the end of his endurance when he saw an inviting grassy 
ledge on the face of the cliff. 

Thankfully he hauled himself on to this and lay down to rest. The 
minutes went by, and the party on the cliff-top could be seen peering 
anxiously downward. There was no sign of the climber; only Men- 
hinick and Eades, out at sea, could see what had happened. The 
ledge on which Byng had subsided had a sharp overhang, and he 
could get no further. Being a philosophical individual, he had de- 
cided that as progress upward was impossible he would take a short 
nap before making his descent ! And there he remained quite happily 
on his insecure perch until the spring sunshine had dried his 
saturated uniform. 

It was only a few weeks later that the U.S. Rangers used the 
Rocket Grapnel with spectacular success in their D-Day assault on a 
German coast battery commanding the assault beaches of "Oinaha" 
and "Utah." Before then, however, Byng had helped to evolve 
another and far more elaborate kind of cliff -scaling apparatus. 

One day in that spring of 1944 a Sapper captain named Holmes 
called on the firm of Merryweather, in Greenwich High Street. Since 
the start of the war Merryweathers had been making equipment for 
all manner of tasks, from the fuelling of ships at sea to radar and 
bomb-disposal, but for two centuries they had specialized in the 
building of fire-fighting appliances. 

With "this in mind their visitor asked if it would be possible to 
install and operate one of their loo-foot telescopic steel ladders in a 
D.U.K.W. 1 At first sight this seemed out of the question. They 
pointed out that the standard fire-fighting ladder and its mechanism 
weighed 5 tons, and a rough calculation showed that if it was to be 
installed in a small amphibious craft the weight would have to be 
cut by half. 

When they went further into the problem, however, they found 
that by discarding the normal turntable and winch and using a 
different raising mechanism they could reduce the overall weight 
very substantially. Some tests were carried out with the Brighton Fire 
Brigade's loo-foot turntable ladder lashed to a landing-craft. Then 
the Admiralty took over, and to D.M.W.D. fell the task of progress- 
ing the job. Byng startled the firm by announcing that five of the 
special ladders must be ready in six weeks. Normally such an order 
would have taken nine months to carry out, but the job was given 

1 D.U.K.W.'s, or "Ducks" as they were generally known, were American 
amphibious trucks "designed to cany a load of ij tons in smooth water" 
Commander A. B. Stanford, U.S.N.R., Force Mulberry (Morrow, New York). 


top priority, and D.M.W.D. saw to it that there was no delay in 
getting the necessary supplies of steel and aluminium to the factory. 

Currie had to find some means of camouflaging these large, 
unwieldy objects. He experimented with netting attached to the 
canvas covers of the escapes, but at first this gave a lot of trouble. 
It could only be anchored at the top, and tended to flap, so he went 
and explained his difficulty to an East End tailor who had helped 
the department with several previous camouflage problems. The 
tailor showed him how the material could be cut on a long curve, and 
as soon as this was done the netting, with its patches of protective 
colouring, fitted snugly in place. 

Three days inside the stipulated time the last of the ladders was 
ready. They were highly ingenious affairs, each one having two 
machine-guns mounted at its head, special shields of armour-plating 
to give some protection to the gunners, and a beach-to-cliff-top 
telephone. The ladders themselves could be raised to their full height 
in the brief time it took the craft to clamber from the sea and race 
across the beach. 

It had been impressed on the Greenwich firm that absolute 
secrecy was vital, and although 500 men and women worked in the 
factory while these unusual fire-escapes were being built not a hint 
of their purpose reached the outside world. 

Early one morning they were taken from the works, their shape 
disguised by a dummy framework of baulks of timber, and were 
driven westward to the Amphibious Wing of the Royal Army Ser- 
vice Corps in North Devon. There they underwent successful trials. 

The design and installation of these seagoing ladders in such a 
short space of time was a remarkable technical feat, for an entirely 
new method of operating them using the D.U.K.W.'s winch drive 
had had to be devised. 

The team working on this rush job for the invasion received a 
special commendation from the Board of Admiralty. As it turned 
out, they had done more than fulfil an arduous contract; they had 
won a race against Fate. 

Not long after their task was completed a flying bomb landed in 
Greenwich. It scored a direct hit on the factory, laying it in ruins. 


^r "ir "T-HEN the decision was taken at Washington to use floating 
%/%/ breakwaters as the outer bastion of the Mulberry Harbours 
Y y little more than eight months remained before D-Day. An 
unexpected postponement of the invasion was later to give brief 
respite to the hard-pressed teams involved in Operation Neptune, 
as the naval side of the invasion was now known; but even 
so D.M.W.D. only one of countless naval organizations working 
desperately against the clock faced a task of singular com- 

In addition to all their other invasion projects they now had to 
build, assemble, and test more than two miles of an entirely new and 
untried type of sea barrier. And the highly promising results of the 
experiments with rigid-sided models, which floated on their own 
without the need for any huge and fragile balloon envelopes to sup- 
port them, raised a fresh complication. 

The Combined Chiefs of Staff had ruled that the floating break- 
water must be sufficiently mobile to be towed across the Channel; it 
must be capable of being moored in water deep enough to provide 
shelter for fully laden Liberty ships; and it must be strong enough 
to withstand winds up to Force 6 the equivalent of 25-31 m.p.h. 
The Wheezera and Dodgers were told that the breakwater must be 
ready in all respects by the month of May. 1 

The results of the latest experiments indicated that a full-sized 
rigid breakwater would comply with all the requirements D.M.W.D. 
had already accepted for Lilo, and on September 13 the plunge was 
taken. Although they decided to go ahead still with the trials of the 
Lilo prototypes, which were expected to provide valuable informa- 
tion on mooring problems, the major effort would be concentrated 
from now onward on the design and construction of the radically 
different steel units. 

1 The plans called for the completion of two fully established artificial harbours 
by D plus 14. It was decided that the floating breakwaters should provide some 
measure of protection to shipping by D plus 4. 


At first this improved version was called Hard Lilo, to distinguish 
it from the rubber-and-concrete structure now awaiting trial in the 
Channel, but eventually it was given the code name of Bombar- 

The design for the full-scale Bombardon breakwater envisaged a 
series of hollow steel objects which, viewed end-on, looked like 
monster Maltese crosses. They would be 200 feet long and just 
over 25 feet wide, with a draught of 19 feet. On launching, the 
bottom and side arms would be flooded with sea-water to give 
the necessary stability. To support this weight the top half of 
the vertical arm would contain a nest of watertight buoyancy 

To appreciate the magnitude of the Mulberry Harbour project 
and the r61e which Bombardon was to fill, the complexity of some 
of the other components involved should be borne in mind. 

The Phoenix concrete caissons which were to form the inner 
breakwater called for 15,000 workmen to build them, and no less 
than 630,000 tons of concrete. The responsibility for constructing 
these caissons devolved on the War Office, who were also making the 
pier roadways and floating pier-heads, but was not the happiest 
of arrangements. It had come about because, in the initial stages, the 
staff requirements for the harbours had been put to the War Office 
and not to the Admiralty. Enterprisingly enough, the War Office had 
devoted some attention to the question of harbour design, and long 
before Mulberry took shape they had prepared plans for various 
component parts. The virtual monopoly which they eventually held 
in this field was destined to produce difficulties for the Navy as the 
date of the invasion drew nearer. It meant that the bulk of the vast 
construction programme for the artificial harbour was in the hands 
of a purely military organization with little experience of seaman- 
ship, and yet the final responsibility for moving the Mulberry com- 
ponents across the Channel and placing them safely in position 
devolved on the Royal Navy. 

At first the War Office had planned to make the harbour entirely 
of Phoenix units, but the Admiralty pointed out that if this was done 
it would take at least a fortnight before any appreciable shelter was 
available. If during that period the wind blew from the North the 
whole expedition would find itself in great danger on a dead lee 

When Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay took up his duties as Allied 
Naval Commander-in-Chief, Expeditionary Force (A.N.G.X.F.), in 
October he realized the need for a deputy who could co-ordinate all 
the naval requirements for Mulberry. His choice fell on Rear- 
Admiral William Tennant, the same immensely capable and imper- 


turbable man whose leadership had greatly contributed to the suc- 
cess of the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940. 

Tennant studied the Mulberry plans with some anxiety. His man- 
date was to create in fifteen days a harbour which would last at least 
three months a harbour which could handle 12,000 tons of stores 
and 2500 vehicles daily, while affording protection for Liberty ships, 
coasters, and all manner of small craft. 

Before building such a harbour in peace-time it would have been 
considered essential to spend months surveying the sea-bottom. Here 
this was impossible. Heavily mined and littered with obstructions, 
the vital area of the Normandy coast was defended by E-boats, and 
it lay under the very muzzles of the German shore batteries. The 
Allied planners were therefore forced in the early stages to work from 
scanty intelligence reports, aerial photographs, and old French charts 
based on out-of-date surveys. Early in 1944 this knowledge was for- 
tunately supplemented by a series of audacious raids on the beaches, 
and six weeks before D-Day Lieutenant F. M. Berncastle, D.S.C., 
R.N., carried out a fuller survey of the Arromanches area in a small 
boat and took a line of soundings. At the time when Admiral Ten- 
nant first took stock of the situation, however, there was little reliable 
information available about the prospective sites for the Mulberries, 
and he wondered, too, how all the ingenious machinery for the float- 
ing piers was to be safely delivered. 

It seemed to him that insufficient attention had so far been paid to 
the towing problem; no one yet knew whether Bombardon would 
prove effective; and if they had to rely on the Phcenix caissons, what 
would happen in the early stages of the invasion to the mass of 
shipping lying off the beaches? Providing that the caissons could be 
laid rapidly enough, there would be some shelter at least for the 
bigger ships inside the breakwater. But there would not be room 
there as well for the thousands of small craft supporting the assault 
groups craft particularly vulnerable to the weather. 

Tennant therefore put forward a scheme for several independent 
shallow-water shelters, inside which the landing-craft could take 
refuge. They would be additional to the two main anchorages Mul- 
berry A, the American port at St Laurent, and Mulberry B, the 
British port at Arromanches and he proposed that they should be 
formed by blockships, which could be sailed across the Channel 
under their own power and then sunk in position. The scheme was 
adopted, and these shallow-water shelters were given the code name 
of Gooseberry. 

The Gooseberry harbours added a major commitment to the naval 
programme, but the Allied planners had a much greater headache 
this in store for them. When Field-Marshal Montgomery 


arrived from the Mediterranean in January 1944 to take up his post 
as Military Commander he came to the conclusion that the plans for 
Operation Overlord must be recast to provide for an assault by five 
divisions instead of three. This involved extending the front by 
twenty-five miles, considerably increasing the scale of gunnery sup- 
port, and the Royal Navy were called upon to find a thousand more 
landing-craft, in addition to hundreds of additional warships and 
minesweepers. In the circumstances there was only one course open 
to the Allied Command, and the date for the invasion was put back 
by a month, from May i to June 5. 

To the Wheezers and Dodgers the postponement came as a wel- 
come relief. Before work could begin on building the 96 full-scale 
Bombardons required for the two harbours over 300 separate experi- 
ments had to be carried out with scale models to check the theory of 
wave-suppression by the new floating units and determine the towing 
and mooring data necessary for full-scale operations. 

Most of these intricate tests were made in the tank at Haslar, 
where a miniature Mulberry Harbour was created. The mooring 
problem needed particularly careful study. Normally, when ships are 
moored in a line, gaps approximately the length of each vessel are 
left ahead and astern. Such gaps could not, however, be permitted 
between the Bombardons, for this would have allowed waves to pass 
through and build up again inside the harbour to as much as three- 
quarters of their original height. Eventually it was decided to com- 
promise, using a 5O-foot gap and mooring the units in pairs between 
buoys. To reduce the wave-movement inside the breakwater still 
further, D.M.W.D/S plans called for two parallel lines of Bombar- 
dons, 800 feet apart. Tests at Haslar had shown that if this was done 
the energy of the waves would diminish to one-tenth of their original 

The model tests indicated that a full-sized Bombardon breakwater 
would suppress the biggest waves predicted for the period of the 
Overlord operation, and the expenditure in material would be less 
than a tenth of that required for any alternative method. The prob- 
lem it posed in both materials and manpower was, however, still 
formidable. Over 25,000 tons of steel were needed, as well as a thou- 
sand tons of nuts and bolts. The task of building the units, for which 
sites were allocated at Tilbury and the King George V Dock at 
Southampton, was to occupy a labour force of 1700 men for six 

Before making their final plans the Admiralty closely examined 
all available production resources, and in view of the heavy demands 
of the other Services they decided that Bombardon would have to 


be built by mass-producing a prefabricated structure, the various 
components being bolted together in the final assembly. A bolted con- 
struction would not have been contemplated by a naval architect 
in peace-time, but now it was Hobson's choice ; there was simply not 
the skilled labour available for riveting and welding. 

Since there was little information about the behaviour of waves 
readily available Robert Lochner decided to set up an observation 
post on the Sussex coast. The Wheezers and Dodgers took over a 
lighthouse at Newhaven, special recording instruments were in- 
stalled, and a pretty Wren Petty Officer, Mary Lee, who had worked 
on a wide variety of jobs for the department, was posted there as resi- 
dent 'caretaker.' Unfortunately D.M.W.D. forgot to notify the 
Naval Officer in Charge, Newhaven, that they were setting up this 
mysterious establishment in his command, and the N.O.I.C., a 
retired Vice-Admiral, was greatly incensed. Before long, however, 
the strange researches proceeding in the lighthouse began to intrigue 
him, and he would arrive almost daily on the breakwater to in- 
spect progress invariably accompanied by two disdainful pekinese 

The wave calculations which interested him so much were regis- 
tered by an electrical recorder. These statistics were supplemented by 
visual observation, and Lochner, Byng, Urwin, and Quick spent 
hours on the cliffs timing the duration of the waves with a stop- 
watch. Gradually heights and lengths were linked with wind speed 
and fetch, and then the distinguished figure of Penney descended on 
the establishment to analyse the data they had collected. His calcula- 
tions fascinated the lighthouse team, who watched him cover page 
after page of his notebooks with graceful, curling wave symbols. 
When asked by a visiting R.N.V.K officer to explain what Penney 
was doing Quick replied, "We're not quite sure, but we think he's 
composing a concerto ! " 

The finst two prototypes of Bombardon were ready by the end of 
December. They were brought round to Newhaven and moored 
there for observation, but almost immediately came an unwelcome 
setback. A sudden gale sprang up, and the units broke their backs. 
Fortunately an initial structural weakness was soon tracked down. 
By the end of January Admiral Tennant was able to report that the 
floating units were being materially strengthened, and would shortly 
undergo more intensive trials in Weymouth Bay. 

Newhaven was deserted in favour of Weymouth because condi- 
tions in the latter area more closely approximated to those on the 
Normandy coast. Fifteen Bombardons were now moored in the bay 
an outer row of nine and an inner row of six and elaborate 
arrangements were made for recording the height, length, and period 


of the waves on either side of the breakwaters. For this purpose new 
and complicated apparatus had to be specially devised. Two yo-foot 
masts were erected on the sea-bed, and on these were mounted rows 
of watertight float switches which gave a direct recording of each 
individual wave. Other types of recorder were placed inside the 
Bombardons themselves. 

The first full-scale trial of the floating breakwater took place on 
April 1-2. And it provided just the test for which Lochner had been 
hoping. An onshore gale, with a Force 7 wind gusting up to Force 
8, brought heavy seas, but the Bombardons cushioned the waves so 
effectively that in the lee of the lines of steel bastions the crew of an 
American minesweeper found it possible to lower a small boat, row 
about, and then board the ship again without any difficulty. When 
the gale subsided Captain C. N. E. Curry, R.N., whom the Admi- 
ralty had placed in operational control of Bombardon, signalled that 
the floating harbour had successfully withstood for ten hours a stress 
twice as great as the breakwater had been designed to meet, repelling 
waves 8 feet high and 200 feet long. 

While Bombardon was being prepared for this trial Admiral 
Tennant had to grapple with many other problems assailing this 
gigantic harbour enterprise. One hitch occurred when the time came 
to try out the raising of the Phoenix caissons. The pumping plant on 
which the War Office had been relying to expel the sea-water ballast 
from these enormous hollow structures worked too slowly, and it 
became necessary to make additional vent-holes in the concrete sides 
of the caissons. 

This crisis brought an SOS to the Wheezers and Dodgers, and 
the job was tackled by Brinsmead, using specially shaped ex- 
plosive charges. Ever since the Hedgehog days he had been 
experimenting at Whitchurch with the focusing of explosives, and 
he was able to operate quickly and successfully on the submerged 
Phoenixes. He knew a great deal about the effect of explosives 
on concrete, for he had long been concentrating on this very sub- 
ject to overcome a problem which was worrying the Overlord 

One of the vital invasion requirements was the capture, and use at 
the earliest possible moment, of the major Channel ports, so that 
supplies could keep pace with the advancing armies. The Mulberry 
Harbours were essentially a short-term project; they could not com- 
pete with the potentialities of permanent ports like Cherbourg, 
Boulogne , and Antwerp. It was, however, well realized that the 
enemy would do everything in their power to deny the use of such 
ports to the Allies, and the approaches would almost certainly be 
blocked by concrete-filled wrecks. 




Swiss Roll, the Royal Navy's floating roadway, 

can be seen on the right of the picture. 

War Office official photograph 









When Brinsmead began his researches the only way of destroying 
such obstructions involved the use of depth-charges linked together 
and detonated by remote control. This system called, however, for a 
vast array of electric cables always a nuisance in a tideway and 
all too often much of the explosive effect was lost through failure of 
the charges to explode simultaneously. 

Brinsmead hit on the idea of using one master charge and a series 
of specially shaped smaller charges, the whole network being trig- 
gered by the shock wave from the master charge through an in- 
genious "Wreck Dispersal Pistol" which he had invented himself. 
This apparatus caused the rapid disintegration of any concrete-filled 
obstruction. For other types of wreck he found he could use the 
same pistol in conjunction with groups of ordinary depth-charges, 
blowing enormous craters in the sea-bed, into which the obstructing 
blockships would capsize. 

His invention solved one facet of the captured-port problem. 
Another was now to be tackled with great heroism in a lake 
near Portsmouth. For some weeks Goodeve had been attending 
regular meetings with Rear-Admiral George Creasy, Chief of 
Staff to Admiral Ramsay, and Brigadier Sir Harold Wernher. 
Various technical problems which might crop up on or after 
D-Day were constantly reviewed, and one of these was mine- 

As the invasion drew near an important factor in future planning 
was seen to be the speed with which Cherbourg could be restored to 
use. It was bound to be heavily sown with delayed-action mines and 
booby-traps which could not be swept in the ordinary way, and these 
would have to be tackled individually by frogmen. 1 

The more Goodeve thought about this, the more it worried him. 
There seemed to be no alternative, but he was convinced that the 
frogmen volunteering for this task would have little chance of sur- 
viving underwater explosions unless they could be provided with 
some form of protective clothing. 

Eventually he put the problem to Surgeon-Commander C. L. G. 
Pratt, R.N.V.R., 2 the Medical Officer in Charge of the Royal Navy's 
Physiological Laboratory. 

"I know we can't protect these chaps against an explosion at very 
short range," he said, "but we must find a way of reducing the risk. 
Do you think you can design some sort of suit which will give at least 
a measure of protection against underwater blast?" 

1 The enemy were already claiming that in the first three months of 1944 they 
had laid 165,000,000 mines in the Bay of Caen alone. 

4 Dr Pratt is now Senior Tutor at Christ's College, Cambridge, and Univer- 
sity Lecturer in Physiology. 


"How long can you give us?" Pratt asked. "If we were going to 
tackle a job like that thoroughly in peace-time it might take anything 
up to two years." 

Goodeve thought for a moment. "You've only got six weeks," he 
said. "In that time the suits must be tested, made, and distributed. 
I know it's a tall order, but you'll have to do your best " 

Later that day Pratt's deputy, Dr S. L. Cowan, came to see 

"I have already made a signal to C.-in-C. Portsmouth, asking for 
volunteers to act as guinea-pigs for you," Goodeve told him. "Miss 
Stanway, in D.M.W.D., will get you everything you need in the way 
of equipment." 

Pratt and Cowan wasted no time. In the third week of April 
experiments began at Horsea Island, where there was a deep sea- 
water lake a thousand yards long. After exhaustive tests with gauges 
Pratt drew up a programme of trials with human subjects. The aim 
was to expose each man to a series of explosions, increasing the 
severity of these step by step until he reached the limit of his endur- 
ance or showed signs of slight injury. 

The first to subject themselves to this ordeal were Pratt and Dr 
Edward Case, a Cambridge bio-chemist serving as a lieutenant- 
commander in the R.N. V.R. Special Branch. 

Dressed in ordinary frogmen's suits, they were rowed out to the 
centre of the lake, and then, clambering awkwardly over the side of 
their small boat, they disappeared below the surface. They advanced 
to within 70 feet of the charge. At that distance the blast lifted them 
bodily in the water, and a violent stinging sensation attacked their 
hands, wrists, and neck. They were brought to the surface, and 
Cowan examined them. Then they went down again, and the tests 
continued, the depth of the charge being varied, while the distance 
between the subject and the charge was also changed before each 

These preliminary trials gave them something to work on, and 
after comparing their notes Pratt and his helpers designed three 
different types of kapok jerkin. At the end of the first week in May 
the experiments on the bed of the lake began again. 

Wearing the protective clothing, they now approached much 
nearer to the demolition charges, and at 40 feet they were severely 
buffeted. Case's experience was typical. He felt a terrific blow on 
the head "it was like being hit with a cricket bat" and for a 
second or two he staggered blindly about, unable to collect his senses. 
His chest hurt, and he had a raging pain in his ears. At this dose 
range the stinging sensation he had experienced before became an 
acute pain, accompanied by an unpleasant numbness in his hands as 


if they were turning to ice. To make matters worse the force of the 
explosion displaced his face-piece, with its breathing-tube, and in- 
stantly it filled with water. 

For a long time after they had been brought ashore Pratt, Case, 
and Lieutenant Guy Boissard, R.N.V.R., an Australian who had 
asked to be allowed to take part in the experiments, all suffered from 
splitting headaches. It was therefore decided not to shorten the dis- 
tance any further, for it seemed all too likely that they might be 
stunned, seriously injured, or drowned; but they carried on with 
the tests, trying each of the different suits in turn. As many as 
four times in a day they went down into the icy depths of the 
lake. The ordeal left them battered and tired, with excruciating 
aches in the knees, elbows, and shoulders. In time the pain spread 
to smaller joints like the wrists and fingers, and was to persist for 
several weeks. 

The trials had to go on, for they still needed more data, and there 
was less than a month left. By now the three naval officers realized 
that if they were to continue the experiments unaided the physical 
punishment they were absorbing might soon affect their judgment 
and powers of observation. So a third series of underwater tests was 
launched with a fresh team of volunteers headed by a young New 
Zealander, Sub-Lieutenant W. J. L. Smith. 

Like Boissard, Smith had been serving in submarines; and he 
shared the Australian's keen interest in applying scientific method to 
naval problems. The lake party now included two members of the 
Submarine Escape Training Section at H.M.S. Dolphin, Mr R. V. 
Rowkins, a Commissioned Boatswain, and Chief Petty Officer 
Watson; and a notable character in Chief Stoker George ("but me 
mates call me Barge!") Evans. On the technical side valuable assis- 
tance was given by lieutenant-Commander W. O. Shdford, the 
Navy's greatest diving expert. 

In bitter winds and chill water the hazardous work continued. 
Often when they were brought to the surface of the lake the bat- 
tered and semi-conscious men had great difficulty in describing their 
strange new experiences to the waiting scientists. But they stuck to 
their task, and all the information which Pratt needed was finally 

It is not possible to recount the precise steps which were taken to 
neutralize the effect of explosions underwater, but the protective suit 
which was produced in time for use on the sea-bed at Cherbourg was 
triumphantly successful. Wearing it, the "P" Parties, as the frogmen 
who volunteered for this dangerous mission were officially known, 
searched over two million square feet of the port. Much of the time 
they were in total darkness, and had to fight their way through deep 


mud, with wreckage of all descriptions littering their path, but they 
located and destroyed hundreds of mines. 1 

Magnificent as their achievement was, the frogmen owed niore 
than they knew to the self-sacrifice of that small band of scientists 
and sailors who had ventured into the unknown on the bed of Horsea 

1 In Frogmen, by T. J. Waldron and James Gleeson (Evans, 1950)* occurs the 
following passage: "Not long before D-Day a special jacket had been invented 
to protect us against that"terrible blast which can be experienced when a mine or 
shell explodes under water. Known as a Kapok jacket ... it proved a most 
wonderful thing, and saved the lives of no less than three of my men." 


A each part of the prefabricated harbours was finished it had to 
be towed from the construction berth to make room for the 
the next job. Finding suitable assembly areas for the vast 
conglomeration of harbour equipment was no easy problem, for 
there were 60 blockships, nearly 150 Phoenix caissons, some hundred 
sections of the floating breakwater, and miles of pier roadway. 

To keep them safe until they were needed the Phoenix units were 
sunk on the bed of the Channel. This operation was not as easy as it 
sounded, for the concrete monsters were most particular about what 
they sat on. Unless the sea-bed was perfectly flat and in shallow 
water they were liable to crack and give endless trouble when the 
time came for the dispatching parties to pump them out and prepare 
them for their long journey. 

Dungeness and Selsey were chosen as reception centres for the 
caissons, and as D-Day drew near they presented an amazing sight. 
The Phoenixes were as big as a block of flats. In Admiral Tennant's 
words it looked for all the world as if "some one had picked up 
Chicago and put it down on the Sussex foreshore/' Additional park- 
ing areas were found for about five miles of pier roadway at Peel 
Bank and Marchwood, opposite Southampton, and the scene in the 
Solent was equally bizarre, the towering pier-heads suggesting that 
some vast factory had risen from the water. 

The piers and pier-heads fitted together like a giant Meccano set, 
and their brilliantly ingenious design calls for some description. At 
the shore end the piers were secured to heavy ramps. As the metal 
roadway ran seaward over a succession of concrete barges, called 
Beetles, which supported it, every sixth span was telescopic to allow 
for the twist and sag of the pier in heavy weather. 

At the seaward end the roadway was moored to "Spud" pier- 
heads great floating platforms with steel legs at each corner. The 
inspiration for their design came from a certain type of dredger 
which had once ridden out a West Indies hurricane so violent that 
all other shipping in the area had been driven ashore to destruction. 


The whole of this intricate equipment had been designed and 
produced under the direction of Major-General D. J. McMullen, 
the Director of Transportation at the War Office, and his able and 
forceful deputy, Brigadier Bruce White. 1 

With such an array of ships and strange marine objects assembling 
off the South Coast of England it seemed inconceivable that the 
enemy should remain ignorant of what was afoot. The naval forces 
alone taking part in Operation Neptune included 8 battleships and 
monitors, 22 cruisers, 93 destroyers, nearly 450 escorts and mine- 
sweepers, and 360 M.L.'s, M.T.B.'s, and kindred craft; the berthing 
overflow extended to Mflford Haven and Harwich, the Humber, 
Belfast, and the Clyde. 

To confuse the watchers on the enemy coast a cover plan was 
devised to suggest that the main landing would take place in the Pas 
de Calais, and the dumps of Phoenix caissons at Dungeness, easily 
visible from Boulogne, assisted in this deception. 

In assessing the Allied intentions, however, the enemy were 
decisively handicapped by the inability of their air-reconnaissance 
units to maintain any proper survey over the South Coast of Eng- 
land as a whole. Days went by without a single report of any value 
reaching von Rundstedt's headquarters, and the Allied naval H.Q. 
at Southwick Park, a Georgian country house hidden in the woods 
near Portsmouth, remained undetected from the air. There the only 
signs of enemy activity were the flying bombs, which passed regu- 
larly overhead towards Southampton. 2 

Throughout this overture to Overlord the activities of the 
Wheezers and Dodgers were manifold. For months past Dove and 
others had been developing a variety of devices to confuse the 
enemy's radar from the moment the invasion fleet sailed. There 
were rockets and shells which emitted coils of aluminium wire to 
baffle the range-finding of the German coastal batteries. To draw 
the enemy fire away from major targets another group of objects was 
produced simulating forces which did not, in fact, exist at all. Differ- 
ent types of reflector again made quite small craft look like battle- 
ships on the radar screen, while cruisers appeared no bigger than 
fishing vessels. 

D.M.W.D. designed special radar marking buoys to keep the 
Allied bombarding ships dead on course during their night approach 

/Now Major-General Sir Donald McMullen, K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O. Brigadier 
Sir Bruce White, knighted for his services in 1944, was Director of Ports and 
Inland Waterways at the War Office. 

* At this parkland headquarters it was forbidden to walk in the fields, for the 
trodden grass would have shown up plainly in aerial photographs. All the per- 
mitted entrance and exit routes were indicated by white pegs or painted lines. 
Over these paths camouflage netting was spread. 


to the French coast. To the untrained observer these must have 
looked simple enough to make just a large flag flying from a mast 
but their effective operation depended on many highly technical 
factors, and the state of the sea, the height of the reflector above the 
surface, and the direction of the wind relative to the German radar 
sets all had to be taken into account. 

Donald Currie was kept busy with the camouflage of Bombardon 
and Pluto and the concealment of small craft hiding up in rivers and 
creeks as they waited for D-Day. At Birnbeck a team headed by 
Coulson and Bruce was putting the finishing touches to Helter 

At the last minute the Army had asked for some means of speeding 
up the transfer of men and their equipment from troopships to the 
decks of the landing-craft. Scrambling nets, they had decided, were 
far from satisfactory. 

So D.M.W.D. designed a tube from which stretched a long, rub- 
berized canvas chute. The far end of this could be held quite easily 
by two men standing on the deck of a landing-craft; all that the sol- 
dier needed to do was to clamber in, feet first, and hurtle to the 

They tried out the Helter Skelter at a factory in South London, 
and after several apprehensive workmen had been dispatched to 
earth from the fourth floor of the building without injuring them- 
selves the device was taken to Birnbeck for more searching tests. 
There they soon discovered that modifications were necessary, for 
when it was used by some soldiers with full kit one man tore a strip 
clean down the canvas tunnel with the foresight of his rifle; the rest 
of his platoon, following dose behind, all fell straight into the sea ! 

Bruce removed this hazard by inserting a bonded canvas lining 
inside the main chute. This embodied a safety-device to give prompt 
warning of any undue wear, and they now felt sufficiently confident 
to invite a detachment of American troops, quartered near by, to give 
Helter Skelter a thorough trial. 

Fifty stalwart members of the United States Army paraded at the 
end of the pier, and to the N.C.O. in charge of them Bruce explained 
the object of the exercise. The men were to enter the tube in quick 
succession and dive forty feet into a small boat moored below. 

Walking to the edge of the pier, the Sergeant took one look at the 
boat bobbing far beneath him, and declined Bruce's invitation with 
considerable emphasis! So Boswell and John Wide gave a demon- 
stration. After that there was no holding the American Army, who 
spent the rest of the afternoon hurling themselves off the pier. They 
enjoyed themselves so hugely that Boswell had some difficulty in 
persuading them to return to their base. 


The Helter Skelter was then passed for service, and Coulson super- 
vised its installation on board a number of Castle Line troopships. 

A few days before the invasion Admiral Tennant took Field- 
Marshal Smuts round the mass of landing-craft and other vessels 
lying off Spithead. Staring out over the crowded anchorage, Smuts 
remarked thoughtfully, "If this fails we shall have to start afresh, and 
perhaps take two years to build it all up again." 

At the time Tennant could not envisage failure, particularly on the 
naval side, every facet of which he had been studying for months. 
Later he was to recall vividly what Smuts had said, but on this St 
Crispin's Eve the very scope and scale of the Allied preparations 
seemed to defy the possibility of disaster. 

As far as the Wheczers and Dodgers were concerned the trials of 
Bombardon had been a complete success. They knew the floating 
breakwater would stand up to the weather conditions which the plan- 
ners had specified. Robert Lochner, however, could not altogether 
rid himself of doubts about the safety-margin which had been set. 

Bombardon was designed to contend with seas corresponding to 
winds of Force 6 no more and no less. Ostensibly this estimate was 
based on convincing weather statistics alone; while conceding that 
winds of much greater force often blew in the Channel, the meteoro- 
logists had reported that this rarely happened in the month of June. 
The planners therefore accepted this figure but in point of fact they 
had no alternative. If they had called for a breakwater capable of 
withstanding any greater stress this would have complicated the con- 
structional problem, and Bombardon might not have been built in 
time. Possibly, too, the view of the Army that their units could not be 
designed to stand up to Force 8 winds and seas had a bearing on the 
readiness of the planning staff to regard Force 6 as the desirable 
target figure. 

The original estimate given to D.M.W.D. for a sea corresponding 
to a Force 6 wind set the maximum height of the waves at 8 feet and 
their length at 100 feet. Experiments at Newhaven and Weymouth 
showed this to be inaccurate, and the figures were increased to 10 
feet and 150 feet. While the Weymouth trials had proved that 
Bombardon could stand up to heavier seas than this for a limited 
period, it was impossible to foretell what might happen if a pro- 
longed spell of really bad weather occurred during the invasion. 

From the start the Wheezers and Dodgers had recognized the 
obvious objections to mooring a floating object broadside on to the 
wind. If such an object was to withstand heavy seas over a long 
period Lochner maintained that it needed to be riveted and welded 
like a ship. This was particularly the case with the Bombardons, for, 


in view of the high rise and fall of tide off the Normandy coast and 
the deep draught of the Liberty ships using the harbours, the floating 
units would have to be moored in at least 70 feet of water. This 
placed a considerable strain on their moorings. 

Voicing his anxiety to Admiral Wake-Walker, Lochner pointed 
out that during trials at Newhaven two of the units had broken apart. 
One was eventually washed up on the beach, and examination 
showed that the bolts had worked out. His request for a change in 
the method of construction was reluctantly but inevitably refused; 
there were not enough welders available to tackle the job. A modified 
design was, however, introduced, strips of iron being welded across 
part of the top, the side-fins, and the bottom of the breakwater units. 
It was only a compromise, but it was better than nothing. 

Lochner asked for one further safety-measure. He wanted explo- 
sive cutters attached to the mooring cables at one end of each Bom- 
bardon. If a severe storm did come these cutters could be operated 
from the shore, and the floating units would then ride head to sea. 
Unfortunately, however, there was not time to incorporate this device. 

The morning of June 4 brought warning of gales in the Channel, 
and after anxiously studying the e met' reports General Eisenhower 
took his historic decision to postpone the invasion by twenty-four 

At 8.15 P.M. on the same day he issued a new order. The assault 
on the coast of France would be launched on June 6. 

When the invasion fleet put to sea the first sections of the floating 
breakwater sailed with it from Portland. Before following their pro- 
gress we must turn to other momentous events in which the Wheezers 
and Dodgers had a hand. 

Five hours before zero hour a force of small craft left Newhaven 
and headed towards Dieppe, towing a number of the department's 
radar 'foxing* devices. By simulating an earlier attack to the east- 
ward they hoped to draw off attention from the Bay of Caen, and 
the R.A.F. co-operated in this manoeuvre. 

Dove also had twelve minesweepers flying 'magic' balloons. These 
anchored off Sdsey Bill until H.Hour arrived, and then went over 
with the heavy ships forming the bombarding force. When the 
cruisers opened up on the distant shore batteries the minesweepers 
circled in the smoke-screen to draw the fire of the enemy. 

The assault force included 45 Hedgerows. The small landing-craft 
(L.C.A.'s) in which they were mounted were, unhappily, ill-equipped 
to face the conditions they encountered during their approach to 
France. Of one flotilla of nine, eight sank in heavy seas, but the 
Hedgerows which reached the beaches on time did magnificent work. 


L.C.A. 712, commanded by Lieutenant R. Murray, R.N.V.R., 
had an adventurous passage. While still off the Isle of Wight she 
sustained damage from the rising seas; then there was difficulty in 
slipping the tow; and no sooner had they arrived on their assault 
station than the armoured doors were blown inward by a 6-inch 
shell. Under heavy small-arms fire Murray pressed home his attack, 
and saw his salvo of bombs explode half-way up the beach near 
Bernieres Church. 

L.G.A. 1071 (Sub-Lieutenant P. C. Lennard Payne, R.N.V.R.) 
had an even more eventful time. She shipped a considerable amount 
of water on the voyage, and the tow eventually parted. At 0745, 
however, she was in position off the enemy shore, and Payne sighted 
his target a gap in the sea wall filled with sandbags and overlooked 
by a prominent landmark, a green house. 

He held on his course, and, narrowly missing a beach obstacle 
with a mine attached to its top, he fired his Hedgerow. "As we turned 
I saw the bombs burst in and beyond the wall. Immediately we came 
under heavy small-arms fire from the green house and several bullets 
passed through our ensign." In seas which constantly threatened to 
capsize her L.C.A. 1071 struggled back to the rendezvous with her 
parent ship and was hoisted inboard. 

L.C.A. 876 was taken in so close by her commanding officer, Lieu- 
tenant F. H. Penfold, Royal Marines, that she was almost aground 
when she fired. Her Hedgerow bombs blew a tremendous breach in 
the sea wall, and, as she withdrew, her crew watched Allied tanks 
forging through the gap. 

Despite the heavy casualties they suffered these small craft and 
their formidable new weapons did great execution in this opening 
phase of the attack; Brigadier F. V. C. Knox, commanding the 6gth 
Infantry Brigade, described them as invaluable in getting his men 
safely ashore. 

Soon after 7 A.M. the cliff -scaling gear went into action. Three 
companies of the U.S. Rangers stormed ashore at Pointe du Hoe, 
three miles west of Omaha Beach, where an almost sheer cliff con- 
fronted them. At first sight it looked impregnable, and the Germans 
thinking that no one would be able to climb it, had left the immediate 
vicinity only lightly defended. 

The Rangers shot up their Rocket Grapnels, and under covering 
fire from two destroyers they rapidly scaled the cliff-face. 1 A subse- 
quent attack on the enemy's defensive positions from the rear 
enabled them to achieve a notable tactical success. 

The Allies had expected to fight every inch of the way ashore on 
that morning of D-Day. In many sectors, however, the initial oppo- 
1 Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe. 


sition was slight, and an officer on board H.M.S. Mauritius was able 
to describe the early proceedings as "a crashing anti-climax." 1 The 
tremendous bombardment by sea and air failed to destroy the well- 
protected enemy batteries, but it forced their guns' crews to take 

As a result Cooke's rescue vessel, H.M.S. Hiker, which had been 
made ready to act as a casualty ship, remained at anchor off the Isle 
of Wight. She was never called upon to fill this role. 

The first of all the five thousand ships and craft to move in the 
invasion were the blockships. There were sixty of these, among them 
the old British battleship Centurion, the French battleship Courbet, 
the British and Dutch cruisers Durban and Sumatra, and merchant 
ships which had been launched as far back as 1903. 

This veteran fleet, which was to form the Gooseberry shelters, was 
so old and so slow that many of the ships had had to begin their long 
journey from Northern ports six days before D-Day. Their best speed 
was less than 6 knots, but every one reached her destination on time. 
There was some anxiety whether they would go down on an even 
keel; if they turned over with their masts inward they might obstruct 
the harbour. So they were ballasted, and charges were placed in each 
hold. These were blown simultaneously, and each ship settled down 
at precisely the right angle. 

By the time the last of the blockships were being sunk the Phoenix 
caissons were arriving. Their placing, too, was no easy matter. The 
tide had to be slack and the wind light. And when the sea-cocks were 
opened the tugs had to hold the monsters extremely accurately as 
they subsided on the bottom. 

Each harbour had its planter, Commander R. K. Silcock, R.N., 
and Lieutenant-Commander A. M. D. Lampen, R.N., showing 
great skill in this highly specialized task. And the tugs were splendidly 
handled by their American masters. 

The placing of the Bombardons was carried out by a fleet of 
carriers, net-layers, and Boom Defence vessels. The first lay took 
place on D plus i ; by D plus 6 the floating breakwater at Mul- 
berry A was complete, and within twenty-four hours the Bombar- 
dons off the British harbour were also safely moored. 

Although the laying of the units had proceeded without a hitch, 
the Wheezers and Dodgers were disturbed at a late decision to install 
the units as a single line, and not in double lines, as successfully tried 
at Weymouth. They were also anchored a good deal deeper than 
had been originally intended. 

On the day after the breakwater at Arromanches had been finished 

1 Commander Kenneth Edwards, Operation Neptune (Collins, 1946), p. 134. 


Lochner and Richardson crossed to France to examine it. It was 
blowing hard, and quite an appreciable sea was running, but the 
Bombardons were not pitching or rolling to any marked extent, and 
the water on the lee side was calm, the waves being cut down to as 
little as 1 8 inches. Above the long line of metal casings hung a cloud 
of spray rising to 20 feet visible proof that the units were repulsing 
the oncoming waves and while Richardson and Lochner rowed 
about, taking measurements of the sea inside and outside the break- 
water, unloading operations in the harbour were proceeding without 

For the first fortnight the blockships and the floating breakwaters 
provided practically all the sheltered water used by the invading 
forces. During that period a great host of men and vast quantities of 
stores were successfully landed, and a supply position was established 
on shore sufficient to secure the bridgehead against any counter- 
attack which the Germans might launch. 

The harbours, however, were not yet complete. In all, 1,500,000 
tons of harbour equipment had to be brought across the Channel 
an operation calling for 150 Allied tugs and although by D plus 12 
most of the Phoenix caissons were in position the weather had held 
up some of the more difficult tows. The massive sections of pier road- 
way gave the greatest trouble. They did not enjoy being towed unless 
the sea was nearly dead calm, and great struggles went on to keep 
them afloat during their go-mile voyage. 

At least seven miles of this pier roadway was still waiting on the 
English side, and with this problem on his hands Admiral Tcnnant 
was greatly relieved when Sunday, June 18, brought "a wonderful, 
calm summer evening ... so calm in fact that I could follow a ripple 
right the way to the horizon." 

As he left the beachhead in a destroyer a signal informed him that 
23 tows of roadway, pier-head components, and Phoenix units had 
just been sailed for the French coast. "I remember thinking that my 
staff had done well to take prompt advantage of the new trend in the 
weather," he recalls; "the c met' report was excellent, with a high 
barometer and a good forecast." 

That very night, however, a sudden and disastrous change oc- 
curred. A warm front had been moving north from the Gulf of Lions, 
and without warning the great invasion fleet and the still unfinished 
harbours were struck by the worst gale the Channel had known for 
forty years. 

Heading straight into the maelstrom, the mass of pier equipment 
still on its way to France had no hope of riding the storm. Only one 
and a half tows survived. Freshening all the time, a violent north- 
easterly wind drove mountainous seas on to the two Mulberries, and 


the spring tides aggravated the situation, for there was deeper water 
inside the harbours. 

Hundreds of landing-craft managed to get under the lee of the 
blockships, and there they held on desperately, with little food, deep, 
or even rest. Hundreds more, less fortunate, were driven ashore. 

The American harbour at St Laurent suffered worst. Mulberry A 
had been built very quickly, but it had been placed in somewhat 
deeper water than the planners had intended, and it was, in any case, 
in a much more exposed position than the British harbour at Arro- 
manches, the latter being partially protected by the Calvados Reef. 
To make matters worse the Americans had planted their blockships 
too hurriedly, laying both ends of the arc first and leaving huge gaps 
in the centre. This had been done to ensure easy communication 
with the shore for their assault craft, but the scheme greatly reduced 
the shelter which the line of blockships afforded. And it was these 
blockships which met the full fury of the gale. 

Some, including the old battleship Centurion, broke their backs. 
As the sea scoured away the sand, which was deeper and more shift- 
ing than in the British harbour, other blockships settled right down 
on the bottom. 

Although only four Phoenix units disintegrated at Mulberry B, the 
Americans' main caisson breakwater, sited at a different angle, suf- 
fered a frontal assault from the waves and rapidly broke up. The 
chaos of Mulberry A was multiplied by the fact that the harbour 
had been crammed to overflowing with ships. Many of these, break- 
ing adrift, bore down on the Whale Piers, sinking the floating 
supports and crumpling the steel roadways like paper. 

What of Bombardon? From the start of the gale these outer bas- 
tions of the two harbours were pounded by seas over 15 feet high 
and 300 feet long. The stress set up was far beyond that which they 
had been designed to meet. But for thirty hours the steel curtain 
stood this ferocious battering. Thereafter the gale made a clean 
sweep. 1 

The storm was still raging when Admiral Tennant sent Lochner 

1 In his account of the great gale (Force Mulberry) Commander Alfred Stan- 
ford, U.S.N.R., deputy commander of Mulberry A, has suggested that the float- 
ing breakwaters hastened the destruction of the American harbour. "Far out in 
the murk the worst possible hazard had occurred. The aoo-ft. long, semi- 
submerged steel units of the Bombardon floating breakwater had torn loose. 
Flune by the sea, these long narrow steel objects Commander Ards had tended 
so faithfully had become battering rams. It was the Bombardons, torn loose and 
flailing against the Phoenix, which may well have breached the Phoenix wall." 

The official report of N.O.I.C. Arromanches, dated August 19, 1944, makes it 
plain that in the British harbour, at any rate, the Bombardons there "damaged 
neither the few Phoenix then in place, nor the ships and craft, numbering about 
500, sheltering under the lee of the Gooseberry" when they broke free and 
drifted ashore. 


over in an MX. to obtain an estimate of the damage. Lochner 
arrived with Byng to find ships galore piled up on the Calvados Reef. 
One end of Mulberry B was breaking up fast, but fortunately the 
British blockships had been planted almost entirely in the natural 
shelter of the Reef. 

The ultimate failure of Bombardon there had apparently started 
with the collapse of the structure of one particular unit. After that 
the added strain on the bolted parts of the others had caused inevi- 
table and progressive disintegration. At Mulberry A it seemed that a 
coupling connecting one of the Bombardons to its moorings had first 
given way. 

After the gale had spent itself Tennant went over to confer with 
Rear-Admiral Allan B. Kirk, commanding the Western Task Force. 
They decided that it was out of the question to attempt to rebuild 
the American harbour in its original form ; only 1 200 feet of hajbour 
components were left out of the one and a half miles they had laid 
down. The Americans therefore readily agreed to strengthen and 
expand the harbour at Arromanches with all the pier equipment 
which could be salvaged from St Laurent. Filling up and double- 
banking their own blockship breakwater, they converted Mulberry A 
into a two-fathom shelter. 

In his Struggle for Europe the late Chester Wilmot raises an inter- 
esting point about the outcome of this decision: 

Undismayed, the Americans applied their talent for invention and 
organization. . . . During July they handled more than twice the 
tonnage of the British Mulberry. This achievement has led to the 
suggestion that the vast expenditure of effort and materials on the 
artificial harbours was unnecessary . . . the same effort could have 
been achieved far more economically with a few hundred more land- 
ing craft and ferries. 

He goes on to point out, however, that the Allies were short of 
landing-craft when planning for Overlord began, and the possession 
of an artificial harbour gave us the freedom to land well away from 
heavily defended areas. It also gave confidence to the Allied High 
Command. At the time when the gale struck ammunition was run- 
ning low ashore. Admiral Tennant therefore decided to carry on 
unloading, using what protection Mulberry B could still provide, and 
some 800 tons of stores and 1 200 men were landed in a day. 

When it was finally completed on D plus 40 the harbour at Arro- 
manches was a truly remarkable enterprise. Two miles long by a mile 
broad, it was maintained by a force of over 5000 officers and men of 
the Royal Navy, and a fleet of hundreds of specialized craft, includ- 
ing port-construction ships, boom-defence vessels, tankers, ferries, 
floating cranes, and floating docks. The harbour was defended 


against air attack by nearly 200 Army guns, as well as the guns of 
the fleet; on the Eastern flank two miles of nets acted as a trap for 
infernal machines, long-range torpedoes, one-man submarines, and 
drifting mines. 

The scale of the operations which it assisted is best conveyed by 
cold statistics. In the first seven weeks the Allies landed i ,500,000 
men with their arms, equipment, and supplies, as well as more than 
322,000 vehicles and 1,500,000 tons of stores. 

At Arromanches Swiss Roll was in continual use as the Royal 
Navy's own pier for bringing ashore men and supplies. Hamilton's 
floating bridge had, however, already played a far more important 
part in the success of the invasion as an instrument in the cover 
plan for misleading the enemy over Allied intentions. The know- 
ledge that this highly mobile type of sea bridge was in production 
was one of many factors which contributed to German indecision 
over the likely point of assault. 

On July 23 the Prime Minister visited Mulberry B, and on his 
return to England he paid his own eloquent tribute in a signal to the 
Naval Officer in Charge, Captain Harold Hickling: "This miracu- 
lous port has played, and will continue to play, a most important 
part in the liberation of Europe." 

In the making of that port the Wheezers and Dodgers had played 
their part, too. For them this was the last chapter. Mulberry Harbour 
was the threshold of occupied Europe. And once the armies of libera- 
tion had crossed that threshold the end of the long struggle was in 

D.M.W.D. had been born under the gunfire of Dunkirk. During 
that last desperate stand on French soil a naval officer was flying 
anti-aircraft kites in a vain endeavour to check low-level attacks by 
the Luftwaffe on the beachhead. 

Four yeara later the same naval officer one of the founder mem- 
bers of the Wheezers and Dodgers landed once again on the shores 
of France on the morning of D-Day. He had just finished a mission 
in which other more ingenious kinds of kite this time created by 
naval scientists and flown from craft under his command had 
assisted in the confusion of the enemy. 

As he stood on the beach near Arromanches, watching the troops 
and guns pouring ashore, a young officer in batdedress shouted a 
welcome. It was Ron Eades, who told him of the Rangers' success 
with the Rocket Grapnel in their cliff assault farther to the east. 

"What are you going to do now?" Eades asked. 

"The war's just about over for me," said John Dove. "I think I 
shall go back to England, get into plain clothes, and go fishing. What 
about you?" 


"I have to go to Bayeux, but I shan't be far behind you. See you 
later," Eades said to him. 

He saluted in farewell, and Dove stood watching him as he strode 
quickly away up the beach to rejoin a party of waiting Americans. 

Lieutenant Eades never came back. Later that morning he was 
killed in action as the Allied armies drove inland from the beachhead. 

With many projects still under development D.M.W.D. continued 
to function as an Admiralty department until the autumn of the 
following year. Most of their work was then taken over by a new 
organization set up to deal with Graft and Amphibious Material. 

"It seems unlikely that the scope of the development section will 
remain virtually unlimited, or that in peace-time it will be able to 
enjoy the unrestricted methods of working which have been so fruit- 
ful during its five and a half years of lively activity," ends a technical 
survey of D.M.W.D/s achievements now in the Admiralty archives. 

It would be, perhaps, unreasonable to expect that such an organi- 
zation, essential in war, should be maintained under peace-time con- 
ditions. The urgency of war places a premium on speed. And to 
achieve speed of decision and execution it is often necessary to 
employ methods which might be quite impractical, financially and 
otherwise, for a Service department in days of peace. 

It was the complete freedom to experiment, the freedom to tackle 
unorthodox projects in an unorthodox way, which was the basis of 
D.M.WJD.'s success. And it was greatly to the credit of the Admi- 
ralty that they allowed such a free hand to an organization whose 
approach to most problems must have seemed revolutionary in the 

Writing to the author, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fraser of North 
Cape, Controller of the Navy at the time when D.M.W.D. was a 
precocious newcomer to the Admiralty, and later First Sea Lord, 
said of the Wheezers and Dodgers: "Their job could only have been 
done if they were unhampered by routine work. A similar sort of 
weapon-thinking department will undoubtedly be required again 
should war ever come." 

That was a verdict delivered a decade after D.M.W.D.'s end. In 
the rapid march of science in the development of the new Royal 
Navy it is perhaps not wishful thinking to imagine that something 
of the inspiration of the Wheezers and Dodgers lives on. 

The value of the department was shown by the findings of the 
Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors, which, sitting long after 
the war was over, and sifting all the evidence with judicial imparti- 
ality, made substantial grants to many of its officers, including Good- 
eve, Richardson, Lochner, Terrell, and Goodf ellow. To mention only 

V TXtf $r 

ADMIRALTY 1939/46 

Friday, May 8, 1953 

In the Chair- 

Commander Sir Charles Goodeve^ O.B.E., F.R.S., R.N.K.R. 




one product of the department, Goodf ello^s Wreck Dispersal Pistol 
alone was stated before the Commission to have saved the country 
some twenty million pounds. 

What has happened to the Wheezers and Dodgers in the years 
since they went their separate ways? 

Well, not long ago they held their first reunion at a restaurant in 
the Strand. The news of their gathering had somehow got about, and 
the restaurant's proprietors were a little apprehensive. Surely these 
were the eccentric scientists whose pockets were invariably crammed 
with high explosives? What would happen to their premises if 
Richardson or Lane brought with them a starshell or a P.A.C. 
rocket? Would Norway want to try out an improved version of the 
Great Panjandrum along their newly decorated corridor? 

But when the guests arrived they all looked reassuringly respec- 
table! The chair was taken by Charles Goodeve, now Director of 
the British Iron and Steel Research Association and a Knight of the 
British Empire for his scientific services to the Royal Navy. Support- 
ing him were Richardson, head of the Nuffield Research Group at 
University College, and Nevil Shute Norway, whose countless best- 
selling novels had made him a household name. 

Among the large company were Alec Menhinick, back from more 
recent adventures as a shark fisherman in the Seychelles; Jock 
Davies, retired from the sea and farming in Surrey; Purcdl, soon to 
take up a new appointment as Chief Scientific Adviser to the Home 
Office; Guggenheim, Professor of Chemistry at Reading University; 
Laurie, now experimenting commercially with bubble harbours; and 
the indispensable Jamieson, still serving at the Admiralty, but addi- 
tionally His Worship the Mayor of Twickenham a dual r61e which> 
he claimed, was no more exacting than the administration of 

The waitere agreed among themselves that they had seldom seen 
a more dignified and decorous assembly, and all would have been 
well if the Chairman had not called upon Richardson for a speech. 

"Gentlemen," said Richardson, "we were often accused rather 
unjustifiably, I always thought of endangering our neighbours in 
the Admiralty with unorthodox experiments. By a strange coinci- 
dence, only yesterday I found this in a drawer in my laboratory. . . ." 

Rummaging in his pockets, he produced what appeared to be a 
small shell, and as he held it up his fellow-guests stared at it a trifle 
uneasily. "It's one of the old Mark VHFs, which, you may remem- 
ber, gave us a bit of trouble towards the end of the war, and I 
thought it might be interesting to see if this one will still function: 
after all these years " 

Placing the object upright on the table in front of him, he raised 


the Chairman's gavel and struck it a sharp blow. With one accord 
the terrified waiters fled for their lives. And, since news travels fast, 
a knot of onlookers gathered in the street outside, waiting hopefully 
for a sight of the Wheezers and Dodgers using their diff-scaling 
apparatus to reach the safety of the Strand. 

But the explosion never came. A small sub-committee is now 
looking into the matter, and a resounding report is expected at the 
next reunion. 


The Second World War, by Winston S. Churchill, 6 vols. (Cassell, 1948- 

J 954)- 
Science at War, by J. G. Crowther and Professor R. Whiddington, 

C.B.E., F.R.S. (H.M.S.O.). 

The War at Sea, by Captain S. W. Roskffl, Vol. I (H.M.S.O.). 
Report by ANGXF on Operation Neptune, Vol. I. 
Max Horton and the Western Approaches, by Rear-Admiral W. S. 

Chalmers, C.B.E., D.S.C. (Hodder and Stoughton, 1954). 
Admiralty Weekly Intelligence Report, March-June 1946. 
Operation Neptune, by Commander Kenneth Edwards, R.N. (Collins, 


British Coaster 1939-1945 (H.M.S.O.). 

The Epic of Dunkirk, by E. Keble Chatterton (Hurst and Blackett). 
Above Us the Waves (Harrap, 1953). 
The Dam Busters, by Paul Brickhill (Evans). 
Die Wolfe und der Admiral, by Wolfgang Frank (Stalling- Verlag, 


Britain's Merchant Navy, edited by Sir Archibald Kurd. 
Service Most Silent, by John Frayn Turner (Harrap, 1955). 
Force Mulberry, by Commander A. B. Stanford, U.S.N.R. (William 

Morrow, New York). 
Cornish Engineers (a history of Holman Brothers of Camborne), by 

Bernard Hollpwood. 

Wavy Navy, edited by Lennox Kerr and David James (Harrap, 1950). 
Paper on the Bombardon Floating Breakwater (Lt.-Commander 

R. A. W. A. Lochner, M.B.E., R.N.V.R., Dr Oscar Faber, and Sir 

William Penney, K.B.E., F.R.S., M.A.) read at the Conference on 

War-time Engineering Problems, June 1947, and published by the 

Institute of Civil Engineers. 
"Floating Wharves and Jetties," article by the late R, M. Hamilton, 

M.A., in the Dock and Harbour Authority Journal for April 1946. 
"New England, Cradle of American Industrialisation" (address de- 
livered under the auspices of the American Society of Civil Engineers 

and the Rhode Island Society of Professional Engineers by Antoine 

Gazda, April 1947). 
Some Mechanical Features in Anti-submarine Weapons (paper by 

J. M. Kirkby, M.A., A.M.I.Mech.E., published by the Institution of 

Mechanical Engineers, 1948). 


ABEL, LIEUTENANT R. C., 193, 224, 


Aberporth, rocket range at, 75, 82 
Acoustic Warning Device, 58, 60 
Alcock, Flight-Lieutenant (later Sir 

John), 193 
Algiers, arrival of "Hedgerow" craft at, 

"Alligator" (amphibious craft), 234- 

Antrim, Lieutenant-Commander Earl 

of, 224 

"Aphrodite" (radar decoy), 164 
Appledore, trials of "Panjandrum" at, 


Appleton, Sir Edward, 198-199 
Archer, H.M.S., 156-157 
Arromanches Mulberry B), 283-287 
Aurora, H.M.S., 193 

"Beach Gradient Meter," 229 
Beaverbrook, Lord, 67, 71, 257 
"Beetles" (concrete barges), 277 
Belfield, Toby, 208, 214 
Bell, Lieutenant Stanley, 178 
Berncastle, Lieutenant F. M., 269 
Biddell, Lieutenant A.G.W., 59, 182, 
w . 234, ?37 
Birnbeck Pier, 118-119, '4* ** *** 

i9, 173, 192, 242-243, 245-246, 

262, 279 

Bizerta, "Hedgerow" trials off, 248 
Blacker, Lieutenant-Colonel, L. V. S., 


Blackett, Professor P. M. S., 155 
Blandy, Captain William, U.S.N., 72 
Boissard, Lieutenant G. P., 275 
"Bombardon" (Mulberry Harbour 

breakwater), 267-272, 280-281, 

"Bookrest" (explosive device), 192, 

Boswell, Lieutenant-Commander C. N., 

143-144, 159, 161-162, 192, 243, 

246, 262 

Bourdillon, Dr, 232 
Boyd, Captain Denis, 21, 23 
Brasher breakwater, 240-241 
Breconshire, m.v., 193 
Breslau (German warship), 193 

Blind, Captain E. J. P., 79-80 

Brinsmead, Lieutenant - Commander 
A.C., 33, 76-77, 148, 272-273 

British Extemporized Artificial Har- 
bours Committee, members of, 258 

Broke, H.U.S., 184-185 

Brookfield, Lieutenant - Commander 

S.J., 193,232-233 

Bruce, Lt.-Cominander Duncan, 109, 

"Bubble Harbour," 241-245, 256-257, 


Buhrle, E. G., 63 
Bullard, Sir Edward, 23, 49, 124 
Burney, Sir Denistoun, 32, 1 73 
Byng, Lieutenant-Commander (later 

Earl of Strafford), 49-50, 233, 243, 

258, 264-265, 271, 286 

CAMOUFLAGE, 5 1 -5 2, 183-190 
Campbell, Rear-Admiral Gordon, V.C., 

Cardington, balloon establishment at, 

103, 118, 172 

Case, Lt-Commander E. M., 274-276 
Casement, Vice- Admiral John, 144 
Cave-Brown-Cave, Wing-Commander, 


Centurion, H.M.S., 283, 285 
Chateau Frontenac ("Quadrant" Con- 
ference at), 258 
Cherbourg, clearance of, 273 
Cherwell, Lord, 75, 102, 130, 
Chesil Beach, 150151 
Churchill, Miss Mary, 135, 173 
Churchill, the Right Hon. Winston, 17, 

74> 78, 99, 102-103, 112, 125, 134- 

135, 189, 258-259 
Cliff-scaling gear, 263-266, 282 
Close, Lieutenant James, 92, 94, 143, 

145-146, 242 

"Cockatrice" (flame-thrower), 45-46 
Conqueror, H.M.S., 75-76 
Cooke, Lieutenant J . H. M., 45, 82-87, 

96, IOQ, 165, 166, 260-261 
Cork and Orrery, Admiral of the Fleet 

the Earl of, 32 
Coulson, Lieutenant - Commander 

A. F. W., 33, 163, 189, 195, 241, 

Courbet (French battleship), 283 




Cowan, DrS.L., 274 
Creasy, Rear- Admiral George, 273 
Crow, Sir Alwyn, 75 
Crowe, R. J. S., 147, 151 
Currey, Captain C.N.E., 23, 272 
Currie, Lieutenant D. F., 32, 51, 60- 
61, 183-187, 263, 266, 279 

D.U.K.W.'s (amphibious craft), 265- 


Dallmeyer, Commander W. A., 23 
David, Dr, 149 

Davies, Captain G. O. C., 90, 102-103, 
34~i35, 150, 171, 

Degaussing, 19,25 

Dolphin, H.M.S., 275 

"Double L" Sweep, 23-25 

Dove, Commander J. S., 33, 74, 94, 

iw j. ., M, 
Sir Frederick, 42, 83, 

163, 2 


Dunkirk, evacuation from, z8 
Durban, H.M.S., 283 
Dynamo, Operation, 17, 28 

EADES, LIEUTENANT R. F., 192, 232, 

243, 261, 264-265, 287-288 
Empress of Britain, s.s., 139 
Evans. Chief Stoker George, 275 
Excellent, H.M.S., 32, 56, 79-80, 215 
"Expendable Noise-maker," 144-145 
Explosive aircraft, 250-251 
Explosive motor-boat, 230-231 

FABER, DR OSCAR, 257-258 

Fernwood 9 s.s., 148 

Finch-Noyes, Group-Captain, 221-222, 


Fireglow, s.s., 93 
Fort Halstead, research station at, 75 

193-198, 199-203, 212, 214-215, 

219, 231-232, 250-253, 273, 288, 

Goodfellow, Lieutenant J. H. G., 75- 

76, 166-169, 249-250, 288, 290 
"Gooseberry" shelters, 269, 283 
"Grasshopper" (rocket landing craft), 


Green Room Club, 197 
Grosvenor Hotel, 199 et seq., 213 
Guggenheim, Dr E. A., 24, 130, 148- 
224, 246-247, 256, 



Francis, Lieutenant J. R. D., 105-107, Highlander, s.s., 

1 18-1 19, 129, 137, 139, 142, 163 
Fraser, Admiral of the Fleet Lord, 34, 

67-69, 90, 288 
Fraser, Commander J., 103 
Free Balloon Barrage, 102-1 12 


General Electric Company, 60, 187 

Gilbert, Richard, 98 

Glanville, Dr, 53 

Glider targets, 178-180 

Gneisenau (German warship), 185 

Goeben (German warship), 193 

Goodeve, Commander Sir Charles, 21 

et seq., 29 et seq., 41 et seq., 51 et seq., 

66 et seq., 89-91, 96, 1 14, 1 16, 1 18- 

122, 124 et seq., 142-143, 150, 155 

etseq., 170, 177, 184, 188, 190-191, 

HAAKON, H.M. KINO, 1 16 
Haigh, Professor B. P., 20 
"Hajile" (deceleration apparatus), 170- 


Hamilton, Peter, 200, 207-208, 213 
Hamilton, Ronald M., 198 et seq., 212 

et seq. 
Hamilton, Mrs R. M., 204 et seq., 215- 

Harris, Lieutenant T. F. W., 74, 109- 

110, 163 

Harvey Projector, 82 et seq. 
Harwood, Lieutenant, 35, 39 
Hassall, Lieutenant Ian, 82-83, 128 
Hatfield, DrH. S., 149-150, 152, 181- 


Hawes, Captain, 132 
"Hedgehog" (anti-submarine mortar), 

1 1 8, i*$ etseq. 
"Hedgerow" (for counter - mining 

beaches), 149, 245-249, 281-282 
Helsby, Lieutenant F. W., 247 
"Helter - Skelter" (disembarkation 

chute), 279-280 
Herbert, J. S., 208, 219-220 
Hichens, Lieutenant - Commander 

Robert, 100-101 
Hickling, Captain Harold, 287 

Highlander, s.s., 99-101 

'Hiker, 1 H.M.S. (rescue boat), 165-166, 


Hinton, Lieutenant T. N., 82, 233 
Hispano gun, 65, 71 
Holbrook, Commander N. D., V.G., 

119-120, 165 

Holman, A. T., 96-90, 101 
Holman Projector, 90101 
Holmes, Captain, R. E., 265 
Horsea Lake, diving trials in, 274-276 
Horton, Admiral Sir Max, 156 
Hudson Motor Company, 234235 
Hughes-Hallett, Captain J., 41, 255 
Hungaria Restaurant, no 
Hunter, Stanley, 208 
Hutchings, Captain J. F., 262 




Instow, "Panjandrum" trials at, 224 

Invisible boat, 230 

Ismay, General Sir Hastings, 259 

McMullen, Major-General D. J., 278 
Madden, Commander Sir Charles, 39 
Marwarrin, s.s. t 185 
Mauritius, H.M.S., 283 
Menhinick, Lieutenant A., 33, 41, 78- 
82, 87-88, 117, 179, 194, 237-239, 
263-265, 290 
Menhinick, Mrs, 237-238 

r e rsey, H.M~S.i 1 93 Merryweather cliff-scaling ladder, 265- 

[ohannesburg University, experiments 266 

Milford Queen, s.s., 93 
Millar, Commander 
Mills, Sir Percy, 67 


Kestrel,KM.S., 1 80 
Kettering, Charles F., 250-251 
King Alfred, H.M.S., 32, 3 

jAMiESON,E.,5i, 1 10, 121, 183,290 
Jeans, Captain F. W. H., 196, 224, 23 x 
Jefferis, Colonel Millis, 74, 124 et seq. 
Jenkins, Ralph, 208 

at, 169 
Johnson, Leading Seaman, 143 

, 35, 39 

Ministry of Aircraft Production, 67-68, 

Mitchell, Commander S. S. C., 65-68, 

Kirk, Rear-Admiral Allan, 
Kite Balloon Section, 

i.N., 286 Mobile 


Klemantaski, Lieutenant Louis, 171, 

i73> 176,226-227,261 
Knox, Brigadier F.V.C., 282 
Kreisel, George, 191-192 

C6 LA PATRIE" (French trawler), 46-4? 
Lamb, Lieutenant D. H. G. R., 146- 

Lampen, Lieutenant - Commander 

Lane, Lieutenant - Commander 

L. H. M., 33, 52, 58, 105, 109, 115- 

Lane-Poole, Vice-Admiral Sir Richard, 


Langley, Colonel, 231 
Laurie, Lieutenant-Commander A. H., 

57, 193, 230, 290 
Le Havre, experiment at, 48 
Leach, Captain John, 97-100 
Lee, Petty Officer Mary, 271 
Leigh, Miss Vivien, 164 
Leasing, Dr, 188 
Lewis, Lieutenant-Commander R. C., 

"Lilo" (experimental breakwater), 256- 


"Lily** (floating runway), 2 16 et seq. 
Lindley, Dr, 132 


" i Float: 

nard, 269-270 

ling Units, 185-187 
Montgomery, Field-Marshal Sir Ber- 

Morgan, Lieutenant-General Sir Fred- 
erick, 231 

Mountbatten, Captain Lord Louis, 62 
64,72-73, 184 

Mulberry Harbour, 245-255, 258-260, 
267 et seq., 277-287 

Murray, Lieutenant R., 282 

Nelson, H.M.S., 102-103 
Neptune, Operation, 278, 281-283 
Newhaven ? observation post at, 2 7 1 
Norway, Lieutenant-Commander Nevil 
Shute, 32, 35, 39, 45 et seq.,&, 58- 
59, 74-70, "9, 155-157, 166-169, 
177-181, 221, 223-226, 230, 232, 
263, 290 

OERLIKON gun, 62 et seq. 

Oram, Maurice, 98 

Ordnance Board, 126-127, 131-133, 


Ottley, Miss E., 51, 194- 1 95 
Ouvry, Commander J. G. D., 1 9 

P.A.C. (Parachute and Cable), ^91-95, 

158, 263 

Panjandrum, the Great, 221 etseq., 290 

Livingstone' Air Commodore, 139 Parker, Lieutenant, 43-44 

Lochner, Lieutenant - Commander Patia, H.M.S.. 87-88 
R. A. W. A., 192-193, 241-245, 255- Payne, Sub-Lieutenant P. C. Lennard, 


260, 271-272, 280-281, 284, 2: 


Lochner, Mrs, 245, 256 
London Passenger Transport Board, 


"Long Aerial Mine," 103 
Lovat, Brigadier Lord, 264 
Lucas, Commander H. D., 133 



"Peardrop" (radar decoy device), 164 
Penfold, Lieutenant F. H., R.M., 282 
Penney, Commander P. J. M., 35, 41 
Penney, Dr William, 191, 256, 258, 

Perring, Engineer Rear -Admiral 

Harold, 68, 71 

'Persil,' H.M.S. (trials boat), 188-189 
Petroleum Warfare Branch, 42, 49 



Phillimore, Commander R~ A. B., 156 
Phoenix caissons (Mulberry Harbour 

components), 268, 272, 277-278, 

283, 285 

Pied Piper, The, ng 
"Pig Trough" (rocket weapon), 75 
"Pillar Box" (rocket weapon), 81, 82 
Plastic Armour, 52 et seq. 
Plastic Protective Plating, 57 
"Pluto" (cross-Channel pipeline), 262, 


Pound, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dud- 
ley, 67, 135 
Pratt, Surgeon-Commander C. L. G., 


Prior, Chief Petty Officer, 88 
Providence, Rhode Island, Oerlikon 

gun factory at, 72 
Proximity fuse, 84 
Purcell, Dr R. H., 74, 159-160, 163- 

164, 199,212, 290 

QUEBEC, "Quadrant" Conference at, 

Quick, Lieutenant N. D., 27 1 

RADAR counter-devices, 163-164, 278- 

279, 281 

Radar marking buoys, 278-279 
"Radiator" (rocket weapon), 76-77 
Radio Nonnandie building, 74, 125 
Ramsay, Admiral Sir Bertram, 268 
Randall, Third Officer Frances, 179- 


Renouf, Rear-Admiral E. deF., 150 
Richardson, Commander F. D., 26, 52, 
92, 103, 107-109, 117-118, 124-125, 
158**^., 173 175, 177, 189, 195- 
196, 224, 231, 262, 284, 288, 290 
Richmond Park, "Alligator" trials in, 



ieutenant J. D., 146, 166- 

Rivers - Bowennan, Lieutenant - Com - 

"Rocket Sea Marker," 163 

Rocket Spear (anti-submarine weapon), 


Roskill, Commander S. W., 62 
Rowkins, R. V., 275 
Ruislip, Oerlikon factory at, 67-71 
Rundstedt, Field-Marshal von, 278 

ST LAURENT (Mulberry A), 285-286 
Salerno landing, 248 
Scharnhorst (German warship), 185 
Schennuly brothers, 91, 158 
"Scorpion" (airfield defence vehicle), 

Scott, Lieutenant-Commander Peter, 

Selby, Captain R. P., 54, 57 

Shelford, Lieutenant - Commander 
W. O., 275 

Shoesmith, John, 1 1 8 

Shute, Nevil see Norway, Lieutenant- 
Commander Nevil Shute 

Silcock, Commander R. K., 283 

Slade, Miss I. M., 182, 195 

Smith, Sub-Lieutenant W. J., 275 

Smuts, Field-Marshal the Rt. Hon. 
J. C., 280 

"Snowflake" (star-shell), 158 

Somerville, Admiral Sir James, 3 i, 39 

Southwick Park, 278 

"Spud" pier-heads (Mulberry Harbour 
components), 277 

"Squid" (anti - submarine weapon), 

Staines Reservoir, 166, 183, 187 

Stanlake, s.s., 93 

Stan way, Miss B., 274 

Starshell, improved design of, 158 et 

Starshell, silhouette tests, 146 
Steer- Webster, Major, 258 
Stills, fresh-water, 166-167 
Store-carrying rocket. 260, 262 
"Strength through Joy" (rocket wea- 
pon), 77-78, 81 

Strickland-Constable, Lieutenant-Com- 
mander R.F., 133 
Suchy, Theodore, 163164 
Sumatra (Dutch cruiser), 283 
"Swallow 5 * aircraft, 1 80-1 82 - 
Swan, Lieutenant-Commander T., 109, 

118, 159-160, 164 

"Swiss Roll" (floating roadway), 199 et 
seq., 212 etseg. 3 287 

191, 242 

Tennant, Vice-Admiral W. G., 18, 268- 
269, 271-272, 280, 284-286 

Tennyson Down, cliff-scaling at, 264- 

Terrell, Lieutenant-Commander Ed- 
ward, 33, 35, 39, 53 et seq., 288 

Thtrlby, s.s., 100 

Thorneycroft, Sir John, 210 

Tilsley, Sergeant, 131 

Tolman, Lieutenant C. F., 33, 76-77, 
105-106, 109 

Tormentor, H.M.S., 237 

Tovey, Admiral Sir John, 103 

"Tureen" (explosive device), 260-262 

"Type J" (P.A.C. rocket), 94, 145-146 

"UNICORN" mortar, 165 
United Service Club, 1 1 


Urwin, Lieutenant A. G. B., 193, 216, 
233, 243, 256, 271 

"VERITY," H.M.S., 184 

Vernon, H.M.S., 19, 23 et seq. 9 193, 

Vian, Captain Philip, 25 


WILLIAM, 20, 153, 194, 281 
Wallis,DrB.N., 150-151 
Washington, conference at, 259 
"WaterHammer," 146 
"Water Snowflake," 161-162 
Watson, Chief Petty Officer, 275 
"Wave Amplitude Measurement Mar- 
ker," 163 
"Weasel" (tracked vehicle), 146 
Wernher, Brigadier Sir Harold, 258, 


Westcott, H.M.S., 137-138 
Westward Ho I, trials of 'Tanjandrum" 

INDEX 297 

at, 223, 225-226; trials of "Alli- 
gator" at, 237 

Weymouth Bay, trials of "Bombardon" 
in, 271, 280 

Whitchurch, research station at, 130, 
134-135, 148, 272 

White, Brigadier Bruce, 258, 278 

White, Dr, 241-243 

Wide, Lieutenant John, 141142,242 

Williamson, Commander G. E., 193, 
222-225, 234-236, 238, 247 

'Wiping' (demagnetizing), 18-19, 26- 

Wrtfhound,*L.M.S., 18 

Wood, Dr A. B., 23 

Woodspring Priory (D.M.WJX trials 

ground at), 145 
Wreck Dispersal Pistol, 273, 290 
Wricht, Sir Charles, 29, 90, 196 
Wyllie, Lieutenant M. R. J., 144-145 


[NOTE : Titles and ranks quoted in this index are those held at the 
time of the events described.]